How to Get Voluntarily Denied Boarding on United Airlines

Discussion in 'United Airlines | MileagePlus' started by Rob, Feb 7, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Rob
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    Rob Gold Member

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    This will almost certainly change as the merger with Continental progresses.

    1. Be on an oversold or weight-restricted flight.
    Locating consistently oversold flights can be hard, as there are people at United whose job is to figure out just the right amount of seats to oversell on any given flight, and unlike you, they have comprehensive data on loads and how many people actually show up. I've had the best luck with picking flights that will probably used by business travellers and holiday flying. For instance, the first flight of the morning on Mondays from ORD to LAX can often end up a little over. Thursday evening flights LAX to ORD can also be good. South America to IAD or ORD. London to North America around Easter (or if BA is striking).

    Weight-restricted flights can come in two varieties that both seem related to weather: regional jets and long hauls. Regional jets with weight restrictions can be slightly easier to predict, as they seem to happen on hot days with slightly longer flights. Something like PWM to ORD in July. Long hauls are usually upper winds related in the winter. LAX-SYD if the upper winds are strong, or SYD-LAX if the upper winds are weak. IAD-SFO on an A320 if the jetstream is strong.

    Of course, there's a third possibility: get lucky. You never know when an aircraft will be downgauged (A320 with 12F 132Y switching to A320 with 12F 126Y, or domestic 767 to international 767); something happens to cause people to get on to your full flight (1K/GS Buy-Y; another flight cancels; some other problem causes crew or mechanics to be dead-headed on your flight; there's an inoperative seat; federal air marshals decide to go on your flight).

    Everyone once in a while, people will ask how they can arrange for a bump on their cheap ticket. It can be hard to figure out with any certainty long enough in advance to buy a cheap ticket. A lot of my bumps in 2010 came on relatively expensive tickets that I purchased (usually with a previous bump credit offsetting part of the cost) and that if I didn't get bumped, I would be happy to fly on the flights I purchased. If you can buy a cheap ticket on short notice, odds are that the flight won't be oversold, but you might still get lucky.

    2. Do your homework.
    Enable expert mode on united.com (see http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/how-to-see-fare-bucket-availability.2632/) - this is in the process of being rolled out to continental.com (see http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/exptert-mode-comes-to-co-com.14288/), or use Expert Flyer or KVS to check the fare buckets. Different aircraft get oversold to different levels, and the amount of overselling definitely depends on Inventory Management's prediction of no-shows or how much spare capacity they need to have to prevent meltdowns in case of irregular operations. Over the holidays, there's traditionally less overselling because most vacation travellers will make their flights and there is less business travel. Over the summer, there can be more overselling because business travellers are more likely not to make their flights. Seeing F0J0Y0 in the middle of the summer might mean a flight oversold by a bunch, but seeing it around Thanksgiving might mean a flight sold to only to capacity. Also, seeing something like F2J2Y2 on a 747 can be awesome, while seeing those same fare buckets for an E170 can mean that you're out of luck.

    Check on alternate flights in case the gate agents do need to bump people. A lot of times they'll already have an idea of how to route their volunteers, but sometimes they don't, or you have a more preferrable routing or time. Shortly after Jan 1, I was ticketed to fly MCO-DEN-SFO and it looked like I was the only volunteer. Unfortunately, while they could get me on a later MCO-DEN flight, they couldn't get me to SFO as all those flights were sold out as well. Fortunately, I knew that there was a late DEN-OAK flight that had space, so they were able to send me there and we all ended up happy. Alternate origins, destinations, layover points, times, days, sometimes even alternate airlines (this seems pretty rare, but I've seen it happen). Also, sometimes other flights get delayed long enough, or early enough, that they can be an unscheduled option. Check to see if space is available and connection times work, and speak up. The gate agents at Orlando were about to not bump me if I hadn't walked up and mentioned the OAK option.

    3. Be persistent.
    Without being a pest, I'll ask at a variety of places about the odds of being bumped. If I actually talk to a ticket agent checking in, I might ask them. If there's a Red Carpet Club and the agent seems friendly, I'll ask them. On connecting itineraries, say SFO-ORD-LGA, I'll ask at SFO (or really any other United airport, say DEN or MCO or wherever) if I can be put on the volunteer list for ORD-LGA. Agents are sometimes unwilling or don't know how to do this; also, if it's a tight connection in ORD, the gate agent in ORD for ORD-LGA might take volunteers before you even manage to get to the gate.
    I always make sure to ask the gate agent when they show up (generally one hour before departure time). Even though there's a computerized system for ordering the list of volunteers, some gate agents prefer to just grab volunteer's boarding passes in the order that people volunteer and ignore the computer.
    At airports with the LCD monitors that show the Upgrade/Standby/Confirmed Awaiting Seats/Cleared lists, that information can keep you updated. A number of times, I've seen five or six people on the Confirmed Awaiting Seats page, I'll see the number of seats available on the Standby page go from 1 to 0, and seconds later I'll be called up to the podium and bumped. Stay nearby the gate once the gate agent shows up. If they're under time pressure and can't find you, they're going to move on the next volunteer. Even if they still bump you, you might lose out on the best rebooking option, or a better hotel room if it's an overnight bump. Don't hang out in the Red Carpet Club, don't disappear to a restaurant for lunch. Don't get in their face either, though. Just be there, quiet but easily found. Gate agents are under enormous time pressure to get flights out on time. Often, when they're oversold they've usually got a bunch of infrequent travellers who don't have seats constantly requesting a seat, which takes up more time.

    4. Be flexible.
    When those gate agents are under pressure, and they need to bump me, I'll make sure they've got me protected on acceptable flights and then wait off to the side until they're done with boarding and then collect my new boarding passes and compensation. I've heard that this can backfire on you, but I haven't had any issue with it yet. It's possible that they'll bump, end up with empty seats, and try to put you back on the flight. I've never had that happen. I have had it happen where I've been bumped off a flight at 20 minutes prior to departure and then watch standbys get on at the 5 minute mark. The agents have never asked me to get back on the flight, and in general appreciate that I'm trying to stay out of their hair and make their lives easier.

    I generally travel with just a carry on and it's pretty easy for me to "work from home". A lot of volunteers either have checked baggage or a specific time that they need to be someplace. I've spent many hours working remotely from one of the Red Carpet Clubs at O'Hare. Checked baggage isn't necessarily a deal killer domestically, although it might be if you change destinations and need it delivered with you or if it's just easier for the GA to bump someone with no checked bags. I don't have much experience with international bumps, so I'm not sure about checked bags in that case. I try to avoid ordering special meals on flights I might not end up being on. There's a chance that you might end up waiting until 10 minutes before departure before finally boarding, which might mean a lack of overhead or closet space. If you're in a group, a GA can split the reservation and bump less than all of your group, it just takes more time (which might mean the GA bumps a smaller group). This is assuming your group can be split - per al613 if splitting would mean there's an unaccompanied minor, it probably won't happen.

    I always wait until the end of boarding to see if they need me. It's possible if you board and a GA needs someone and has time, they might pull you out of the airplane, but it's not guaranteed. If they need someone and there's a person in front of them and you on board the airplane, the GA can just take the person in front of them.

    5. Know the details.
    First up, getting bumped is not a right. Don't demand it, don't get upset if a gate agent chooses to bump someone else over you. While many times elite status will push you to the top of the list, there are many factors that come into play. Sometimes a gate agent will need two seats, and it's easier to bump one party of two versus two parties of one. Sometimes it's easier to rebook another person versus you (in my MCO-DEN-SFO trip, if they had had a general member that was just going MCO-DEN, they might have chosen them over me). Sometimes they just feel like bumping someone else. Just go with it. I always try to be polite, and emphasize wanting to make their job easier.

    Second up, getting rebooked in a premium fare class is not a right. It can happen. Don't gloat about it. Don't expect it. Don't whine about not getting an EQM or RDM bonus.
    In general, I've always had my upgrades preserved (although that might be an aspect of being a 1K) when available, and is something I check on when doing my research and then when getting protected by the gate agent.

    Now that the standard domestic bump compensation is $400 travel credits, there's a lot less negotiation that occurs. There can be more negotiation internationally which I don't have much experience with. If it's an overnight bump, I make sure before agreeing that hotel will be provided - I've never had it not be, but just want to double check. If it's going to be a long wait, or you're going from flights that had meals that don't anymore, you can ask for a meal voucher. I never bother asking for any kind of taxi voucher, although if I were changing origin airports I would. If you're on a mileage run (or have a short stay), you can ask the gate agent to rebook your return as well but it might cause the gate agent to choose another volunteer.

    Be prepared, present, persistent, and polite. Kind of like flying standby but with the opposite end goal.
     
  2. iluv2fly
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    iluv2fly Silver Member

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    With respect to checked bags, it could be a deal breaker on an international flight, as there is positive bag matching and if there are time constraints in getting the plane out on time, they will go to the pax who have no checked bags.
     
  3. Rob
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    Rob Gold Member

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    Good point; I just edited my post to reflect that.
     
  4. goalie
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    goalie Gold Member

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    A very good post indeed but in addition to all of that, it never hurts to have yourself put on the VDB list as soon as possible. i.e.: If on a same day m/r, or one with the return within 24 hours, where you are all checked in for all segments, have the agent at your outbound airport put you on the VDB list for your desired flight (and even if the flight is not oversold as you never know what type of irrops may happen while you're "flying about"). Also, if not on a run but on a multi-city route and you want to be bumped, again, have your added to the VDB list at your origin point
     
  5. joesmoe
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    joesmoe Gold Member

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    I've been bumped multiple times on intl flights in the past few years. The best was a flight from Zurich to Dallas to Denver. They gave me 1000 Swiss Francs (around 1Euro each at the time) and sent me across the hall to another flight that was boarding Zurich Washington Denver. I was quite suprised to get an envelope of cash.

    I did have checked luggage in this case, didn't make a difference.

    I was flying paid business, didn't get a free upgrade :(

    The other lady who volunteered was in economy and she did get an upgrade, sat next to me in biz.
     
  6. FriendlySkies
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    FriendlySkies Gold Member

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    A very good list ^ I've found that having flight numbers available for the GA to check, will help them out. When I have VDBed (only once :(), I have ExpertFlyer up on my iPad, checking numbers. In addition, I'll write down some flight numbers before I approach the GA. This can really help when they are under pressure to get people seat assignments, etc..
     
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  7. FriendlySkies
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    FriendlySkies Gold Member

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    Do you mean that you did not get an upgrade to F on the new flight, or an upgrade to C? If you were flying another airline, I don't see why they would give you a premium cabin seat if you weren't paying for it..
     
  8. TrueBlueFlyer
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    TrueBlueFlyer Silver Member

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    I need to bookmark this thread for future use...
     
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  9. joesmoe
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    joesmoe Gold Member

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    Same airlines. The other pax got upgraded from economy to biz. I didn't get upgraded from biz to first.
     
  10. sithlord
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    sithlord Silver Member

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    Wish AA still flew dfw-zur!
     
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  11. techgirl
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    techgirl Milepoint Guide

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    Great advice! I've flown exactly 1 UA segment in 2011 but picked up $800 in comp, a first class seat on AA (and the EQMs that come with that), a refund on one segment not taken at all, AND 3 EQS in exchange for my flexibility.

    This is enough to encourage me to do more UA flying after taking a few years off UA due to a very bad, horribly mismanaged VDB situation in 2005 that put me off UA completely.
     
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  12. techgirl
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    techgirl Milepoint Guide

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    So do I, although I'd be curious to know how that relates to VDB on UA. [​IMG]
     
  13. sithlord
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    sithlord Silver Member

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    Good point![​IMG]
     
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  14. Xyzzy
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    Xyzzy Gold Member

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    Having alternative flights to suggest t[​IMG] the agent is key.
     
  15. sithlord
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    sithlord Silver Member

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    Bumping on intl flights lead to very nice compensation and rebooking scenarios![​IMG]
     
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  16. al613
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    al613 Silver Member

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    I've seen having luggage and traveling with a minor as deal breakers when they have other volunteers.
     
  17. 2lovelife
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    2lovelife Silver Member

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    agree, hand feeding them a legitamite solutution helps tremendously.
     
  18. giggs
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    giggs Silver Member

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    I think my method is pretty slick. I voluntarily don't book on United and thus I deny myself boarding. Sad part is I don't get any compensation for that.
     
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  19. Xyzzy
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    Xyzzy Gold Member

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    [​IMG]
     
  20. Rob
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    Rob Gold Member

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    Thanks Al, I edited the post to reflect your comments.
     
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  21. iceman77_7
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    iceman77_7 Silver Member

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    In my limited experience with bumps, I have also noticed that I am more likely to get bumped if it's the last flight of the day. In these cases, I've always gotten a free hotel and a $15 meal voucher in addition to the $400 TC. If I don't need to be somewhere by that day, I don't mind these bumps as I enjoy getting free food and staying in a decent hotel. [​IMG]
     
  22. gradientdescent

    gradientdescent Member

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    SFO-LAX is my favorite VDB route, especially in summer. Often can pick up a pair of $400/person e-certs in exchange for a 30-60 minute wait and (sometimes) a confirmed upgrade.
     
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  23. mowogo
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    mowogo Gold Member

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    Regional Jets in the middle of the day on Sunday can be wonderful for bumps, because you get the mix of families traveling, and business travelers trying to avoid waking up at 3am in the morning to catch their flight.

    One of the best things you can do to increase your chances for a successful bump is to simply be friendly with the agents. By being friendly they remember you and if it becomes necessary to bump someone, they will gladly take someone they "know" rather than just a name on a list.
     
  24. Sean
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    Sean Gold Member

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    Another tip if flying on a Continental operated flight: Be the first to volunteer at the check in machine. As of two months ago CO was still processing bumps on a first come first serve basis, not the status based method that United uses.
     
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  25. ifly153
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    ifly153 Gold Member

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    For me, I check two things. First, I watch the flight load before leaving to see if the flight is sold out or almost sold out. Second, I look at the LCD screen to see if the number of "confirmed awaiting seats" is more than "seats remaining". If either is the case, then I'll ask the GA politely if they need volunteers and add my name to the list. If neither, then I don't even bother trying.
     

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