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Ask about restrictions before accepting a bump

Accepting a bump can be a great way to earn free travel—if you don’t mind being inconvenienced. But, as reader Gary Mason of Chicago points out, you may have trouble actually using the free-flight voucher you earn when you give up your seat. “Sure you can get a free ticket, but not necessarily on the flights you would like,” says Mason, speaking from personal experience.

Your best bet for hassle-free bumping compensation comes from American, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and US Airways. Each offers monetary vouchers that can be used as cash toward a flight of your choosing. US Airways offers both free-flight and cash vouchers, however, so if you have a choice, accept the monetary voucher because it isn’t subject to restrictions.

Unfortunately, many carriers still offer round-trip flight vouchers that are subject to capacity controls, blackout dates, or other restrictions. These rules can make redeeming the voucher difficult, particularly around holidays or other busy travel times. However, gate agents may be empowered to bargain with passengers considering a bump, so be sure to ask for a cash voucher, no matter which airline you’re flying. If airline cash isn’t available, ask about any fine-print details that apply to the free-flight voucher, including major restrictions.

Don’t despair if you wind up accepting a bump in exchange for a free-flight voucher. You might easily book a flight using it, but it depends on your route, airline, and travel dates.

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