A Recent Overbooked Flight Ended up Costing Delta $180,000

Looks like this time the gamble didn’t quite pay off

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If there was ever a sign that air travel is back, consider it the fact that airlines are starting to oversell flights again. While they may have struggled with capacity during the thick of the pandemic, it’s beginning to be more common for planes to be stuffed to the gills once again.

What else is back? Apparently the airlines’ risky gamble of overselling flights in order to maximize profits. We get it, it’s been a tough 18 months—but a gamble is just that: a gamble. And, as Delta recently found out, it doesn’t always pan out.

According to one passenger, who booked a last-minute Basic Economy ticket from Minneapolis to Iceland for a measly $465 (if you’ve seen flight prices lately, you know this is a steal). Well, turns out, the odds were ever in the favor of Andy Luten and several others who were booked on the oversold flight.

A little background, in case you’ve never been privy to play this gambling game with an airline yourself: Airlines will oversell flights on popular routes—a la booking more passengers than there are seats on the plane—in the hopes that a handful of travelers will be no-shows or cancel. This way they can keep butts in all the seats and cover their own butts instead of losing money (or so they can fully maximize the revenue for each flight).

If they lose their own bet, the airline will then make an announcement at the gate asking for volunteers who are willing to give up their seats in exchange for (usually) vouchers and be booked on the next available flight to the original destination, albeit usually via a different routing. The amount of money or credits offered starts low, and if no passengers bite, the airline will gradually increase the amount until it reels someone in. The catch? Many times the price you cave at is the price you go home with, even if other people hold out to higher amounts. Usually, the price caps out at around $600 per volunteer.

Well, on this particular flight Andy Luten, the travel blogger behind Andy’s Travel Blog, reports that the house lost big and 30 passengers who gave up their seats to be rebooked on a flight the next day, all walked away with jackpots—not even close to the $500 vouchers Delta initially threw out as compensation.

After the announcement, Luten says he walked up to the gate agent and said he would switch to the following day’s flight no problem—for $1,500 and a hotel. Eventually, she agreed. But it didn’t stop there. Aside from being oversold, a weather and fuel issue meant that the plane needed to lighten its passenger load. In order to get to the 30 number of volunteers needed for the flight to take off, Luten says Delta’s agents just kept raising the offer, from $1,500 to $2,000 to $2,500.

Luten says he heard whispers that the offer may have maxed out at $3,500, but when he was handed his voucher, it was for a staggering $4,500—nearly 10 times what he had paid for his ticket. He says a family of five made out with $22,500 in vouchers. Talk about being in the right place and the right time.

All in all, when asked by Luten, a Delta representative told him they had paid out a total of $180,000 between flight vouchers, same-as-cash gift cards, and hotels between all the volunteers. It’s fair to say that the gamble of overselling, especially in light of the unforeseen weather circumstances, was more risk than reward for the airline this time around.

So, next time you hear that magical gate announcement, maybe it’s worth taking out your AirPods and throwing your name in the ring.