Rookie Wednesday – Understanding the “bump” and how to get max value.

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

RenesPoints Rookie

Welcome to a weekly feature on the Renés Points blog. Each week this series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Now on to this week’s feature.

I talk about bumps all the time in the blog, but let’s break it down and make it simple with some Q&A. Also, these will focus on Delta so the rules may be slightly different on other airlines. Plus, like so much with our airline, some rules can be tweaked or even broken if the rep wants to.

What is a bump?

A bump is simply short for being “bumped off” or taken off your flight. Most UN-frequent flyers do not realize that anyone can be bumped off a flight even when you have a confirmed seat and are at the gate ready to fly. If there were more seats sold that there are spaces on the flight (or for a number of other reasons too) you may not get to fly!

Why would an airline need to bump me? Why is this needed? Doesn’t this cost the airline money?

One simple reason, as mentioned above, they sell more seats that the plane has. Why would Delta do this? They guarantee a seat to most medallions if they are willing to pay full “Y” or coach class price to get on the plane. So, it would be cheaper to pay someone a travel voucher than miss out on this high priced ticket. Or, 1000 other things may cause Delta to need your seat. One example where Lisa & I were going skiing and a CRJ had an issue due to cold weather and had to fly with 100% full gas (most of the time planes do not fly will a full tank). Thus, it was way overweight with all the bags and people and they had to get many off the plane to make it safe! Either way, this is a chance for you to get paid to fly later. Also, sorta like a frequent flyer seat, most times airplanes fly with a few seats empty. It is better to fill one of those seats up since it will have flown empty anyway!

Just how much can I get for bumping?

This depends on a bunch of things. The most important is if you are forcibly bumped or offer to give up your seat. If you are forced off, the rules are very specific and laid down by the US government or the EU if originating over there. The focus of this post is volunteering so keep that in mind going forward. So how much can you get? All you can! The “standard” bump with Delta is $400. They are pushing the $200 ones more and more, but if they really need to get people off $400 is a good, and IMO a fair, compensation to expect. If they do not get enough volunteers by asking, they may move it up to $600 or more. On international flights, you should expect $600-800 as a starting price and I have seen even higher than that.

What if I have to stay overnight, do I get a hotel?

You bet. If your flight is the last one of the day expect a hotel night. Now the airline may offer one hotel, and before you accept it, you can feel free to say, are there please any other choices to pick from other than that hotel? Most times they can offer up 2 or 3 for you to pick from. Also keep in mind you can say NO to the hotel they offer and ask for an extra $100-200+ travel voucher and then you stay at the hotel of your choice on points or cash. Lastly, they will often offer the first flight out in the morning at say 6:AM. You can pick just about any flights you want. If you were really smart, you were looking at what flights the next day were really full and ask to be put on those, maybe even the same one you were on just one day later.

What about food? Will Delta feed me?

Sure, well sorta. They will give you some meal vouchers for food. Depending on how long you have to wait you may get dinner, or breakfast lunch and dinner vouchers in varying denominations. You can spend them all at once or bit by bit, but you will not get money back so plan for that. There is also room for some negotiation here. If they give you too little, be brave and ask for one or two more so you can have a “REAL” meal after helping out. Lastly, you don’t have to spend these on food. Most vendors in the airport, even say those who give a massage, will take them so why not treat yourself and snack for free in the Skyclub!

OK so how do I volunteer?

Delta has many automated systems to let you offer up your seat. Some are in testing. Delta my just call you and ask. It may ask you when you check-in online. It may ask you when you check-in at the kiosk in the airport. Many times it will ask you to “bid” for what you are willing to take. In practice this is still not used much, but some are being sly and bidding say $399 or $397 to be higher up on the list. Some new flyers think this will be cash so bid a stupid low amount like $100. I would NEVER give up my seat for an offer that low. $300 would be rock bottom, for me, if it were say only a 1 hr delay and I was put in 1st class on the next flight. The most import thing to do, for now, is be the first one at the gate when they open up the gate. Ask the gate agent to put you down on his/her list as #1. Or, what I often do, is print extra copies of my boarding pass and hand it to them and tell them they can keep that and write #1 volunteer on it so they know what seat they can use!

Will I get a seat on the next flight or what if they tell me I will be standby on the next flight?

This is a major issue you should know about! I will never take a bump unless I know I can get a confirmed flight. You do not need a seat, as that often means the next flight is just as full as this one, but you must be confirmed on the flight. The risk of going standby is you have to spend all day in the airport, or worse, and no chance for another bump!

OK I have my ETV or Voucher, how long do I have to spend it and on what?

You need to look at the fine print, but in most cases you have one year to spend it and one additional year to complete your trip. So, basically 2 years total. Delta has some of THE MOST restrictive ETV rules so you need to be fully aware of these when you accept a bump. You must spend the ETV, but you can book say a ticket for you, your wife and kids and take the ETV off the total amount of the group ticket so long as you are on the flights too. You can spend them on any Delta or Delta code share flights (i.e. you could fly KLM, but it must be one that has a “DL” number as part of the flight). You cannot spend these on bag fees or such. Most of the time it is ONLY tickets you can use ETVs for.

Are there other things to ask for when bumping?

Absolutely. If you don’t have Skyclub access, ask for a pass! Ask for 1st class on the next flight (they don’t like doing this, but sometimes will). If the offer price to bump is too low, offer to bump for FREE, but you then you DO want 1st class on the next flight (on a long flight it may be much better than an ETV). Ask for either Economy Comfort or an exit row when they rebook you if they will not give you 1st class as the rebook most times is in “Y” class so picking those seats should be easy.

Are there ways to improve your bump chance?

Yes. Packing. If you are all carry-on it is much simpler to bump you as the rep does not have to worry about your luggage. Domestically, most times, it will just go without you and you can go get it at the baggage claim office by the luggage belts or at the ticket counter. Also, when booking, look for full flights. Look for peak times like Monday AM or Friday PM or just about any day the last flight of the day as it often gets filled up with errors from the day. All can help.

What if I don’t want to shorten my vacation for a bump?

OK that is fine, make sure when you tell the rep, when they are rebooking your flight, that you don’t want to shorten your trip so can they please rebook the return trip for the same flights one day later or two or more. They are already in the record and the ticket will be reissued. They may balk at asking for more than one day extra, but it never hurts to ask, and ask nice, as you are already doing them a huge favor by helping and giving up your seat. NOW is the time to ask when the record is OPEN and they are already making changes to the ticket for FREE because of the bump.

What if they only need one seat and we are two or three traveling. Can I still bump?

Sure. This is one many do not think about. If they say offer $800 for an international bump, they can only bump one of you and yet also MOVE the other one or two to your flights at the same time. They get nothing but the change to travel with you. Reps tend to NOT want to do this, but it is worth a shot if the offer is good enough.

So these are the Delta basics. Other bits to keep in the back of your head is knowing what to ask for like having the flights you want already in mind so you can just feed them to the rep. Make their job easy. Also, keep a lookout for RedCoats. They can often do things other reps cannot. Lastly, if you know you are right, and a rep says they cannot do “that”, be nice but firm and tell them I have done xyz before, perhaps you can check if there is any way to do xyz again!

Enjoy and happy bumportunies everyone – René

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.


  1. Wow. I have been bumped several times and still learned something from this article. Great work!

  2. Quick question- I thought vouchers could be used for travel only for the person who got the voucher (non transferable). They used to be more flexible. Could you explain what that group travel thing is that you were talking about?

  3. Good advice on asking for an extra day or two at the end! It drives me nuts when people jump up immediately and volunteer for $200. I’m not going to sit at the airport for an extra six hours for $200…

  4. I do everything that you suggest all the time. But time and time again, I am told that they “may need me,” asked to wait in the boarding area till everyone has boarded, and then told, “Sorry, we don’t need you after all.” Then I have to get on the plane after all, and by that time the overhead bins are all full and I have trouble fitting my bag on. I am so sick of getting my hopes raised and then dashed by Delta’s requests for a volunteer that then get retracted at the last minute. It annoys me that you make it sound like it’s SO easy to get bumped. I desperately need these free vouchers, and do everything I can to put myself in the position to earn one, but it just never works out for me.

  5. First bump earlier this year was $375.00 credit and a first class seat on the evening flight. I was the first volunteer. The one that got away a couple of years ago was $800.00 credit to fly the next evening to India, but because of the time change I could not accept it because I had a meeting on Monday morning I had to attend. My company allows us to accept bumps on corporate funds as long as you do not change your business plans and affect the company with the bump.

  6. So two days ago I tried to use a $400 voucher to off set my wife’s flight cost. Our tickets were $300ish each. I bought them together, but the website wouldn’t take any of my voucher money of her ticket. Not a huge deal since I can still use the remainder for future flights, but you say (from what I read above) this shouldn’t be the case? Just curious. (and I’m PLAT and she’s SLVR, which shouldn’t matter I think). Advice? Insight? Should I have called?

    • @JBG – it will only take off of YOUR ticket, but say you booked for BOTH you and your wife on the SAME reservation, then you can use it that way. Thus, you are still “using” it on you but more than just you are flying on the reservation. Clear?

  7. I love getting bumped. I fly a lot for work and often have a lot of flexibility. I usually get bumped 3-4 times a year. I had a double bump a couple months ago and made $1200 off Delta for that one.

    Like Montana says, I don’t like when I get my hopes up when it looks like a flight will be oversold and ends up not being the case. But that’s the nature of the game I guess.

    Question: Do you find that Delta uses the bids from the check-in process? I’ve never known them to use this except for once. Last week the gate agent was very insistant on sticking to the bids/priority list in his computer. Every other time I just show up and it seems like they make me #1 regardless. Maybe a sign that things are changing?

    • @Jacob – yes, times are changing. I bet we do see, if they can get the “IT” working, more and more sticking to the computer over paper and pen (mainline anyway).
      @Mark – you can get bumped flight after flight after flight till the cows come home and it does not matter if you start with a paid for ticket or a Skymiles ticket!

  8. If I get bumped on an 8am flight and rebooked (confirmed) on the 10am flight, can I get bumped again and get another voucher? And so on… until I am really ready to get there?

  9. Also, does it matter if the original ticket was an award ticket purchased with skymiles?

  10. Bummer. It seemed so easy to get bumped before. I think this computer system thing is going to mess that up. I guess on the plus side, for many of the times I get bumped, I don’t think there are any other volunteers because the gate agents are always so happy I volunteered. Whenever they seem that happy that I volunteered, I know I’ve got them right where I want them 🙂

  11. TravelBear Reply

    Hmmm very interesting article. Recently I was checking in via a kiosk and it asked me if I would be willing to be bumped but it didn’t say anything about a bid. Maybe because I declined it didn’t show the bid page?
    Question: So using these ETV/vouchers is the same as paying for a ticket so accruing mileage is not an issue? (very new to this)

    • @TravelBear – yes, for now, spending an ETV is just like spending cash. If Delta changes that, there will be less than NO reason to bump!

  12. Tyler Durden Reply

    I tried to redeem a single ETV ($500) online for 2 tickets (me and my son at $275/each). Unfortunately, I could only apply the voucher to one of the tickets. It would not allow me to apply the remainder to the second ticket. So it appears there is no way to apply all of the $500 ETV to the $550 reservation. rrrgh!

    • @Tyler – correct the 12-15-12 ETV bump rule changed to 1 per ticket. However, if you call, the rep should be able to do it on on reservation since one in each name if both flying.

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  14. Rene, Is it possible to ask for MQM in exchange for a bump? I just started playing this game last month, which means 3 months to level up before the end of the year. Currently my travel plans put me just short, so I’d need to do a run, but if it’s possible to get it (and some extra freebies) by getting bumped, that’d make things easier.

    • @jyee – well sorta. No for just numbers. But, if you are smart, and bump, and can say instead of going ATL-MSP go ATL-JFK-MSP you will get extra MQMs 😉

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  18. Rene, you said that if bumped on an economy fare, we would be rebooked in Y, does that mean that us FOs will very likely clear into first even if they won’t book us into first? Any word on how they decide who to involuntarily bump?


    • @Oliver – Yes on Y but it can be taken away from you by automated system. Involuntary is based on many things including fare class and status.

  19. Does placing a bid means you’re locked into giving up your seat? Can I still change my mind later?

    • @Nini – You do NOT have to accept the bump. You can bid what you want and then say I have decided to fly. They they have to ask for others. I always bid $800 as I can take a lower offer at the gate if I want.

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