How Did a United Passenger Turn a $163 Plane Ticket Into a $10,000 Voucher?

If you're bumped from a flight, you need to know how to get a voucher worthy of your time.

Earlier this month, I traveled with my family from Los Angeles to Hawaii for a short, three-night getaway. Due to extreme headwinds and other mainland weather conditions, we ended up being two hours delayed for takeoff in both directions, with an unexpected extra stop in San Francisco on the way. (For context, know we were traveling with our three-year-old twins — which amplifies the inconvenience of delays.) All told, our arrival times combined to make us a total of three hours late. A few phone calls to Virgin America/Alaska Airlines later, I had secured a total of about $1,100 in vouchers, after I'd paid only about $1,500 for our four round-trip tickets, and even though weather was the issue. Viewing the whole thing pragmatically, I considered it a win: My time is valuable, but that amount of money made it worth it — so I walked away feeling positive about my airline experience and ready to bring back my business.

When it comes to airline delays and other inconveniences, it all comes down to: How much is your time and effort worth... in dollars?

Consider one woman's amazing tale: Allison Preiss was scheduled to fly from Washington Dulles to Austin–Bergstrom International Airport on an 8:45 a.m. for a friend’s bachelorette party, according to The Points Guy. The flight was overbooked, with the airport struggling to accommodate passengers whose flights were canceled due Winter Storm Toby. Preiss herself had even found out the day before her own flight had been cancelled and rebooked. “They started saying at the gate the flight was oversold and offering $800 vouchers, $1,000 vouchers for people to volunteer,” Preiss told The Points Guy. “No one was biting.”

Finally, the gate agent announced that it would be the lowest-fare passenger who had to get bumped involuntarily; that person, it turned out, was Preiss. So the flight left without her.

United agents told her she would be booked on the next available flight to her destination and compensated with a $2,000 voucher — but she had to sign a document acknowledging that she voluntarily left the plane, which she hadn't. 

At that point, another United gate agent came over to provide a pamphlet about bumped passengers' rights, and explained that Preiss was eligible for four times the value of her fare, excluding taxes and fees, in cash. Given that she paid about $163 for her ticket without taxes and fees, she could have gotten a United payout of about $652. She almost took it.

“I almost signed the document and said, ‘I just want the cash for the weekend,'” Preiss told The Points Guy. But before she signed the check, the agent clued her in to more data: “The agent said, ‘You know, I’m authorized to give you more than a $2,000 voucher,” Preiss explained.

The agent offered a $3,000 voucher... and the offer soon became $4,000... and then the agent said she could go as high as a $10,000 voucher. Sold.

A United spokesperson confirmed the amount of the voucher to The Points Guy. Preiss said she might use it to fly first class to Hawaii or Europe. “It was definitely an inconvenience, but I’m happy about the voucher,” she said. “I sort of feel like I just hit the lottery.”

And that's just how I'd feel too. And I'm making a note of the nuances of Preiss' negotiations should I find myself in a similar situation.

Yes, as a working mom of two young children, my time is worth a lot — but $10,000 per person should cover it.

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