United is trying out a new system to let passengers name their price on overbooked flights. However, only the lowest bidders get the cash.
After dragging someone off their plane because the airline needed a seat in April, United was forced to come up with other options for overbooked fights.
The new system, launched earlier this month, lets you name the price it would take to get you off a plane. If your flight is potentially overbooked, you’ll be prompted to indicate if your plans are flexible when you check in at an airport kiosk, or from your computer or smartphone. Then, if you say your travel is flexible, you’ll be prompted to say how much money you’d need to change your plans. The interface offers a few different set amounts—$100, $200, $500—as well as the ability to enter your own. United will then take the lowest bids first when determining who wins this little auction, and, at least theoretically, no one has to get kicked off a plane against their will.
This isn't the only domestic airline rethinking overbooked flights. Delta announced it would authorize employees to offer up to $10,000 to passengers to get them off flights. Delta also has new processes in place to assess passengers’ flexibility and let them name their price to change their plans.
So, moving forward, maybe a week in advance of travel, as a flight starts to fill, an airline might send an email or push notification to passengers who booked the lowest fares, asking them if their plans are flexible and what they’d have to be paid to change them. If it gets volunteers at the right price, the airline could then resell those passengers’ seats at a much higher, last-minute-booking rate.
If you book early, you’re holding a valuable asset, and may be more valuable to someone else than to you. You could put a price on your flexibility and essentially sell your seat back to the airline, to let a person who values it more pay more for it. Everyone benefits in that scenario.”Andrew Sessa
November 21, 2017
Conde Nast Traveler