Delta Offered Family $24,000 In Travel Vouchers, Then Reneged And Cancelled The Flight

A family of three was traveling Delta from Oakland to Salt Lake City on an overbooked flight. The gate agent offered them $8,000 apiece – $24,000 in total – to take another flight. They felt like they’d won the lottery. But then Delta reneged on the offer. The family didn’t get the vouchers, and they didn’t get to take the flight.

Instead, Delta wound up cancelling the flight because of a missing crewmember. As a result, they no longer ‘needed the family’s seats’ in order to accommodate other passengers, since nobody was going to be accommodated. By cancelling the flight, Delta didn’t have to pay denied boarding compensation at all.

A Bay Area tourist was offered $24,000 worth of vouchers from Delta Airlines to give up his family’s seats on an overbooked flight. But he says the airline took back the offer made after an alleged staffing mishap.

“I understand that flights cancel and things happen,” said David Reeves, a Nashville native visiting San Francisco for the holidays. “But don’t dangle the carrot and pull it back.”

The flight was on Christmas Eve day, and the family was connecting to Nashville. The man’s family said he was ruining Christmas by taking the bump vouchers. But, in his words, “its $24,000… we can wait a day for $8,000 a seat.”

In the end they didn’t get the voucher and didn’t make it on Christmas Eve, but they did make it for Christmas. Delta offered a flight two days later, the day after Christmas. However they took matters into their own hands and drove to Monterey airport where they picked up a flight. Delta covered a night’s hotel and rental car expense.

Imagine being so close to $24,000 in travel vouchers, not getting the money but not getting the flight either. You get hosed by the airline anyway and still don’t get the future travel they offered.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I volunteered for a voucher on a Delta flight out of AUS once. The gate agent said it was a sure thing. It was myself and another guy. Well right at the end she called us up and said she didn’t need the seats after all but had already assigned our original seats. So we go to sit in middle seats in the back. And no voucher to boot. The media didn’t cover my story!

  2. Yeah, but the credits would have been on Delta, the US’s most repulsive airline.

  3. If they had already surrendered their seats then how do they not get the compensation? Once I surrender my seat I typically leave the gate area, which makes me think they had volunteered but hadn’t yet been awarded any compensation.

  4. For some flights, VDB compensation to at-gate-solicited VDB volunteers is handled and distributed after the flight has boarded and the gate agent free from trying to get the flight out as soon as possible.

    DL@DTW, for example, has at times waited for the gate to close before issuing my VDB compensation and hotel vouchers. [Unfortunately, the hotel in such cases was rarely the Westin DTW.]

  5. I’ve heard “travel credits” are difficult to use and just above worthless?
    Anyone have experience with these?
    I believe cash is king…..and crypto is a troll living in a landfill.
    Thanks in advance!

  6. I think I remember seeing on the local news that they actually see had the vouchers or a receipt in hand and they were invalidated. If so, I think they are due the money. If it was the usual “volunteer and we’ll use you if we need you”, then they are not due the money.

  7. The lesson to learn here is that you cannot trust an airline about literally anything.
    Also $24,000 in vouchers might as well be $7 million. It’s funny money and doesn’t exist. They weren’t ever going to pay out.
    That said, it’s fairly common knowledge that the voucher is for giving up your seat, and if the seat isn’t needed, you don’t get the voucher.

  8. To all those saying it’s funny money; Delta allows you to select a Amex, Visa or MC gift cards instead of flight credit so it is in fact real money. That said, those cards often have 6 month expirations and are in small denominations (i.e. $250 ea for VI/MC or $500 for Amex) to make it a bit more difficult to use.

  9. What’s the story here? You volunteer in case they are oversold. Even if the flight wasn’t cancelled and people didn’t show up and there ended up being empty seats they wouldn’t get a voucher. You have to be denied boarding. This wasn’t the case. This is the same foe any airline.

  10. @Jon — What? I’ve been voluntarily bumped many times, and I have always been appropriately compensated by the airline (AA, DL and UA). Why would you assume that they wouldn’t pay you if you gave up your seat?

  11. My family of four was booted from an overbooked flight on American airlines on Christmas Eve. We were there on time, checked in, purchased directly from American. The agent was super nasty to us when we protested not being able to board for the seats on our tickets at the gate. We were given exactly nothing for their greedy overbooking and ruining our holiday.

  12. What I take issue with is, I give up my seat for a level of compensation that we agreed to, they give my seat to someone else, then they say sorry, I guess we don’t need you, and then they give me back a different seat.

    Um, no. Give me back the seat I had.

    I don’t care if you have to move the guy that you gave my seat to out of it, I gave up that seat in exchange for compensation, which we we agreed to. If I don’t get back the original seat I gave up (or a better seat that’s acceptable to me), then compensate me as we agreed. If you want me to move to a seat I don’t want, then we can negotiate a level of compensation that’s agreeable to both parties. We can’t agree on that? Fine, then compensate me for not taking the flight, as we had previously agreed.

    Otherwise it’s a bait and switch.

  13. They still got compensation for hotel and car rental!!! Airline travel really is frustrating but it is what it is!! Deal with it and move on.

  14. I booked a flight with Delta. I was originally going from Minneapolis to Athens I was notified that my return flight from Athens-Amsterdam—Minneapolis was changed. My flight from Athens arrives in Amsterdam 5 hours AFTER my flight from Amsterdam leaves. I can not possibly make a flight that has left hours before flight arrives. I was told I could take a different flight and spend 17 hours in the Paris Airport! Delta has set up a system on their website that tell you to “click here” and automatically issues e credits. I do not want e credits. I want my money back. I was told that this is a non refundable flight and I should be content with e credit. I am not content with e credit. In fact I booked this flight because Delta had changed yet another flight and said I needed to have a very long layover. I believe Deltas new mode of business is selling tickets and changing them at whim in order to fill their planes with passengers at the direct cost to the customer who booked agreed upon flights. This constitutes fraud on behalf of Delta airlines. I agreed to and paid for a flight based on cost and transfer times. I can not make a flight connection that arrives after my connecting flight leaves. Delta has in essence canceled this flight and violated their refund policy rules of carriage by doing so. I simply want my money back. I do not want to book a third flight I am unable to take due to Deltas fraudulent booking system

  15. Compensation is for surrendering a seat on a flight from destination A to B..If there is no flight, there is no seat to surrender.. In the case of surrendering seats and subsequently boarding the flight in reassigned seats, this is a lesson in negotiating before surrendering seats. Many times agents ask for volunteers who may be needed. (Thus, in part, vouchers are not generated until the gate is closed.) Before surrendering a seat ask and confirm that if your seat ultimately is not needed that you will retain your original seating. If the answer is no, the decision is yours to make.

  16. As a travel agent, I get the fun job of working schedule changes for my clients. The computer system automatically offers the first flight it has available, not necessarily the one that makes sense. It can result in “misconnects” (the first flight arrives after the connecting flight departs), or ridiculous layovers.

    Delta is my agency’s preferred airline provider. They do not operate intra-Europe flights. All of those flights are operated by partners, usually KLM through AMS, or Air France through CDG.

    Delta Airlines’ computer schedule changes are not fraudulent, but they are very silly sometimes. The same can be said for every airline that I have worked with in my two decades as an agent.

    To Lynda Devine: If your flight is changed by 5 hours or more, then you have the right to request a full refund, even on non-refundable tickets. I’m not sure how you booked your flight, whether it was an online travel agency like Expedia, or direct through Delta. If it was an OTA, then their agent might not know the rules (lots of newbies out there since Covid). You may have to speak with a manager. But you should absolutely receive a refund of your original ticket if the schedule change exceeds 5 hours deviation.

    I hope this helps!

  17. When traveling the friendly skies, Always expect the unexpected. Anything can happen and their are no guarantees other than you’ll get to your destination safely. Happy 2023!

  18. It begs the question , what happens if an airline presents electronic vouchers to a volunteer and the plane leaves the gate and subsequently returns to the gate with a mechanical and ultimately cancels ? Are the vouchers then voided ?

  19. With all the bad news about airline travel cancellations, rental car incarcerations, electric car incinerations, and cruise ship COVID infestations during 2022, my 2023 travel prediction is that travel by horse will make a big comeback. Time for travel neighsayers to invest in hay and support the green energy movement and this nation’s only stable transportation system.

  20. Complete non-story and not worthy of even being mentioned. A cancelled flight overrides any promise of compensation to voluntarily give up a seat. The flight cancelled. Everyone had no choice but to give up their seat. Imagine giving this family $8K travel vouchers each, announce the cancelled the flight, watch the family brag to others in the gate are that they got $8K vouchers on a cancelled flight and watch the fury ensue.

    It may be an unfortunate loss, but denied boarding is not denied boarding until the door is shut, the flight closed out and the plane pushes back.

  21. Thank you Tara the travel agent. Delta
    #1 has no customer service when I use the text help line they refuse to reimburse my flight, when I ask to speak to customer service they put me in a 1 and 1/2 hour waitlist
    #2 called corporate at 8am. A person did answer the phone, however they were just more skilled at placating
    and again refused to refund my money
    #3 Sent in a formal complaint via email a month ago, no response
    #4 This really does look like a scheme to fill planes based on what’s best for Delta, with no regard or recourse for customers

  22. Airlines should not be able to sell more tickets than seats..plain and simple. If a crew member needs to get somewhere, have them jump seat.

  23. @Gene I am saying $24,000 in vouchers/gift cards was never going to be a real offer. Yes, I believe the $10k story. I don’t believe 24k would ever have actually happened. At that rate, someone did a P&L analysis and figured it out.

  24. @Jon Myself and 8 others eaxh received $2800 vouchers for a Delta flight a few years ago.

    However, the volunteer for money game is always a gamble and this family happened to lose. No big deal.

  25. @Lynda:

    The magic is EU 261. Under this EU rule, you are ENTITLED to compensation. No ifs ands or buts!

  26. You only get compensation if the flight departs. No airline will give vouchers until the flight has actually left, without the volunteer. Perhaps the airline didn’t do a great job of explaining this to the customer.

  27. You would think that given the constant seat space and leg room shrinkage, charges for every thing, rude passengers because of this, or not, airlines would get a clue. Customers are not valued. Only their money is. Economy shouldn’t be a cattle car.

    They made a deal with this family and should have stuck with it. Better yet, stop overselling. Have a bit of integrity

  28. They didn’t make a deal with the family. The family thinks they made a deal with them but, as I said in comments above yours, no volunteer money is paid unless the flight takes off. Overselling isn’t a matter of integrity, it’s a sensible business practice which ensures that planes don’t take off with empty seats and airlines have become expert at doing this is a way that rarely leaves passengers without a seat. On the rare occasions when the flight does have more people show up than seats are available, that is when volunteering takes place. If they didn’t do this, fares would have to be increased to take into account the empty seats. I have volunteered my seat a few times and not been paid because they didn’t need my offer. It never would have occurred to me to claim that the airline had promised me money.

    The process of overselling and volunteering is described here and I don’t see that any violation took place.

  29. I feel a lot of the details are missing. I have worked in customer service many years. If only i had enough fingers to count how many times i have explained things to a customer and some only hear what they want. Online travel booking is risky. You could be calling a travel agent while someone is booking online and the same seats sell at once can happen. Software is not perfect. I am not choosing sides, but expecting to be over paid for seats beyond what you paid would make me question it. Ive never had a problem switching flights if the airline had issues. But i feel like there are parts of the details missing.

  30. What a waste of my time reading this. The airline did everything correct. Offered VDB on an oversold flight. Flight canceled…. Then offered hotel & meal accommodations. Get over it.

  31. Compensation is offered only if they used their seats. Meaning everyone have to board the flight if they have no show, they won’t need them. That’s the reason airlines overbook the flight. Since the flight end up being cancel, common sense will tell you there is no competition

  32. Love the people saying this isn’t a big deal..let it be you or yours and watch the divas come out in full force after Delta. Selling more seats than what are available isn’t good business practices. In what universe is selling what doesn’t actually exist ok?

  33. Anyone claiming the airline should pay out are the same people expecting handouts wherever they go. The flight got cancelled, it’s over. They didn’t win a lottery, they were grossly over-compensated when they gave up their seats for a flight, but then it didn’t happen, so the airline didn’t need anyone to make alternative plans. End of story. What’s hard to grasp about that? Stop whining, you’re making us all look bad.

  34. The title makes it sound like Delta canceled the flight so they could get out of their offer to this family, which certainly is misleading. Most people will read the headline and not the whole story. Bad journalism.

    As for the family complaining… as they said ” it felt like they won the Lottery”…well, you win some, you lose some. They almost won, but didn’t. Suck it up rather than disparage the airline.

    Sad that the article was even written IMO. I don’t feel bad for the people not getting something that in the end wasn’t deserved. How would all the other passengers that weren’t going to fly have felt or they then believing they also had a right to similar treatment.

  35. And a lot of us are riding for Delta because we are frequent flyers who understand how the volunteering process works. We’ve been in the same situation where we were offered vouchers in the event that our seats were needed. Sometimes they needed us to volunteer, sometimes they didn’t. We’re also thinking of the gate agent who was, most likely, misquoted, and as a result of this publicity has almost certainly had to undergo a lot of needless stress and interviewing at work because of a customer that didn’t understand how the process works.

  36. I am a frequent flyer and understand how the process works however I completely agree with Dick B that if you offer to take a voucher and are then told it is no longer needed the airline MUST give you back your original seat. Simple!

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