Air Canada Offers to Pay You If You’re Willing to Be Bumped Early

Air Canada has long been the leader in finding things to sell that were not previously offered at all, and it appears they’ve done it again. Now, you can earn some cash by volunteering in advance to be bumped if they need your seat closer to departure. I like the idea a lot, but I do have to wonder if the execution could have been done better.

Unfortunately, it’s not a very straightforward process. Air Canada says that to take advantage of the opportunity, you have to go to the Optiontown website. Apparently, they’re the ones taking the risk here. Once there, you put in your confirmation number and last name and they prepare your offer.

Only parties of 1 or 2 people traveling on Tango or Tango Plus (the cheapest) fares are eligible on flights within Canada or between Canada and the US. Even those people may not be offered the option on every flight. When you enter your information, you get to decide how flexible you are. If you give them a wider range of availability (up to three days), you can earn more than if you just have a few hours of leeway. Once you pick your time range, they give you specific flights within that range from which to choose. At that point, you pick the actual flight that you would be willing to take as an alternate to your original, if they need you.

Finally, you get to choose how far in advance you need to know your plans, either 2 or 4 days prior to departure. If you give them 2 days, they’ll pay you more than if you need 4 days. More flexibility means more money for you.

So how much can you get? They’ll give you up to $7 (USD or CAD) just for signing up. Then if they actually opt to switch you to the new flight, they’ll give you up to $50 more each way. It’s not as much as you could get if you were bumped at the airport, but that makes sense. They’re giving you much more advance notice and they even let you pick your alternative.

This seems like a win-win to me. For Air Canada, they can gain flexibility. If they want to overbook as the flight gets closer, they know how many options they have to move people around. And it will ultimately cost them less to bump people in both monetary and emotional costs. For passengers, they can earn a little extra cash and pick the flight to which they’d want to switch.

My only complaint is that it’s a very complicated system, and you won’t know how much you could make until you actually go through the motions of signing up. That’s a lot of hassle for something that you may not opt to accept if the payment isn’t high enough. But still, it’s better than nothing. Let me know if anyone has the chance to give it a try.


11 Responses to Air Canada Offers to Pay You If You’re Willing to Be Bumped Early

  1. David says:

    I’m assuming that for small changes of up to about 2 or 4 hours, Air Canada can basically change your flight to whatever they like without having to pay you for it.

    I’m gonna ignore the time it takes to set things up on the website, but the hassle factor of having my flight changed has to be worth more than $50 to me. If I’m going to be bumped, this just sounds like the airline is buying me off on the (very) cheap. I think the people accepting this kind of change are likely to be those who are extremely schedule-insensitive – e.g. students and the retired. It seems to me as if this is just Air Canada trying out a very cautious experiment, with the idea of doing something more serious later if this actually works

  2. The Traveling Optimist says:

    $50 for advance notice or a free ticket (if that’s what AC offers) at the gate? The passenger has to jump thru hoops to get the cheapest fare then is offered money to be even more flexible than that?

    The benefit for the customer is to lock in the low fare without incurring penalties for changes the airline wants. As an old Revenue Management hand, the upside for the airline is an entirely new level of planning algorithms based on true close-in elasticity.

    The downside for both is the opportunistic passenger who changes his or her mind at the last minute (can’t re-arrange hotels, sailings or family plans) and doesn’t want the alternative services agreed upon. Are they forced to accept those changes?

  3. Artie says:

    Wasn’t United also offering some sort of pre-flight bump list? What are the similarities and differences to this AC program?

  4. CF says:

    David – It’s more strict than that. If Air Canada involuntarily denies you boarding, you are entitled to compensation unless you haven’t complied with the rules (like you checked in too late). According to their contract of carriage, domestic Canadian are entitled to C$100 in cash or a C$200 Air Canada voucher.

    Travelers between Canada and the US will receive nothing if they get to their next point within 1 hour of the original schedule. Passengers who arrive between 1 and 4 hours of original schedule will receive cash in the amount of the portion of the ticket for which they were denied boarding. Passengers delayed by more than 4 hours get double the amount of that portion of the ticket. Air Canada can also offer a voucher worth more than that, if the passenger is willing to take it.

    I’m sure Air Canada is trying to buy off passengers here – that’s the point. But there is a big benefit to the passenger in that they get to pick their alternate flight in advance, and they don’t get bumped at the gate. They’ll get bumped a couple of day beforehand so you miss the hassle of the airport. It is definitely targeting the flexible traveler, but that’s smart.

    Optimist – If you agree to this deal, you have to do as the airline says. Basically, the airline has the option to switch you to another flight for a previously agreed-upon amount. It makes a great deal of sense to me.

    Artie – I believe United was offering people bumps when they checked in online at home. These are very different programs, though maybe someone who has used the United program can clarify.

  5. The Traveling Optimist says:

    As an ex-airline manager I agree..there are a lot of benefits to this financially, among them being to mitigate customer inconvenience, operating expense and drama at the gate.

    As a customer, however, I see very little about this that’s attractive to anyone except someone returning home or to college who doesn’t care if he or she misses the first few days of class or work.

    On the front side it’s the cart before the horse. Hotels, cruise lines, guided tours and other travel providers will deal with the fall out until any or all of these can create compatible flex-planning schemes to allow for this sudden “We’ll get (you) there when (I say) we get there” approach to previously locked in arrangements.

    Again, I understand that none of that is the airline’s problem. Let the buyer beware to the Nth degree here and that is the issue for me…AC had better load this “product” with all kinds of warnings and liability disclaimers that, once committed, the “option” is unilaterally theirs and any additional expenses or losses are yours. For $50? Not.

  6. CF says:

    Optimist – This will definitely only really appeal to the most flexible travelers, but that’s fine. They don’t need everyone to volunteer for this plan. If a couple of people on a flight do it, it allows them to have flexibility. But it might work the other way as well. You may book the cheapest flight on a day, but you may prefer another flight if possible. So you could reserve the cheap flight and potentially designate the more expensive flight as an alternate (if it’s available). It doesn’t have to be several days, just a few hours to take part. If they could get one or two people to do it, they’d be in great shape.

  7. The Traveling Optimist says:

    Add some flexibility to it and I will agree, then, that it may work on the front end if it also allows up to three days in advance of travel instead of flights later than intended.

    In that regard I would be flexible enough to spend an extra two or three days in Los Angeles before the boat sailed or something to that affect. I’d even consider an alternate airport if they opened that up as well.

    If this “test” goes well, perhaps even overseas as well? So long as the traveler is flexible AND savvy enough, there’s a possibility of success.

  8. I think this is a wonderful idea. We’ve traditionally asked the airlines to take all of the risk and then complain to no end when they do something we don’t like to mitigate or compensate for that risk.

    This way the risk moves around a little bit, and they pay you for the option.

    I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before but what if airlines stopped charging those $100 change fees, but instead made airline tickets “you bought it, you get to use it” but also gave you the option to transfer the ticket to another person for a $15 change fee, and maybe even supported a remarketing site for it say after they had hit a certain yield on the flight..

    But the bottom line is kudos to Air Canada for shifting the risk model around.

  9. David says:

    Nicholas – a name change fee is a good idea – but it needs to be a lot more expensive than $15. If it were that cheap, then people would buy up the realyl cheap seats 11 months before departure date, and then tout them on eBay for the remaining 11 months at a higher price. The result would be that the true passengers pay the touts for their tickets…. with maybe 60% of the ultimate fare going to the airline, and 40% going to the tout. It would also mean that any company who currently would buy a full fare ticket 2 days in advance would instead just buy the cheapest seat 11 months in advance and then assign it to whichever person in their staff actually needed it (or again, sell it on eBay).

    As an example, Ryanair offer a name change, but they charge about $150 dollars for it. Not that expensive, until you consider that their average fare per ticket is only about $40

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