If the airline sold more tickets than there are seats on the plane, some passengers might be denied boarding. If this happens to you, know that EU and US regulations protect your right and you may be entitled to an overbooked flight compensation. Learn more about your rights and what to do when your flight is overbooked.

      When Are You Eligible for Overbooked Flight Compensation?

      In general, to claim compensation for an overbooked flight, the following conditions must be met:

      𑂽 There were more people present for boarding than there were seats on the plane
      𑂽 You did not surrender your seat voluntarily, in exchange for a voucher, airline miles, or any other benefits
      𑂽 You were not denied boarding for a reason other than the overbooking of the plane (e.g. you arrived late at the gate, you were missing travel documents, etc.)

       

      How long after the overbooking can I claim compensation?

      Even if it happened several years ago, you can still claim an overbooking compensation. In general, you can claim for a flight that took place up to 3 years ago, but it actually depends on each country’s statute of limitations. 

      Here are a few examples of how far back you can claim:

      • Austria: 3 years
      • Belgium: 1 year
      • France: 5 years
      • Germany: 3 years
      • Italy: 2 years
      • Portugal: 3 years
      • Spain: 5 years
      • Switzerland: 10 years
      • United Kingdom: 5 years (6 years in Scotland)

      Read our post on the statute of limitation for flight compensations if your country isn't on the list. 

       

      How Much Compensation Can You Claim For Flight Cancellations?

      The amount of the compensation for overbooking varies depending on whether it is EC261 or US regulations that are applicable. 

      Overbooked flight compensation according to EC261

      The EU Regulation 261/2004 (or EC261 in short) acts as the reference when it comes to passenger rights in the EU. It determines the rules for compensation for flights under its jurisdiction, which may include flights from outside the EU (more on that below).

      How much you’re entitled to in compensation for your boarding denial as a result of an overbooked flight varies based on the distance of your flight and its itinerary (whether it was in the EU or not).

      Here’s a summary of overbooked flight compensation amounts, as per EC261:

      Flight distance and itinerary Compensation amount
      All flights 1,500km or less 250€
      Internal EU flights over 1,500km 400€
      Non-internal EU flights between 1,500-3,500km 400€
      Non-internal EU flights over 3,500km 600€

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          Overbooked flight compensation according to US regulations

          First of all, if you’re bumped off an overbooked flight, the airline may offer you an alternate flight. 

          If it doesn’t, you are entitled to 400% of the price of your one-way ticket (limited to $1,350) as well as the refund of the additional fees you have paid as part of your reservation, when applicable (e.g. additional luggage, seat upgrade, etc.).

          If the airline does offer you an alternative flight to your destination, the compensation amount is based on:
          Whether your fight is a domestic US flight or an international one
          How late do you reach your destination, compared to what was planned had you boarded the original flight

          The following table summarizes the compensation amounts you can claim for each scenario:

          Delay at arrival 0-1 hour 1-2 hours 2-4 hours 4+ hours
          US domestic flight No compensation 200% of one-way fare (cannot exceed $675) 400% of one-way fare (cannot exceed $1,350) 400% of one-way fare (cannot exceed $1,350)
          International flight No compensation 200% of one-way fare (cannot exceed $675) 200% of one-way fare (cannot exceed $675) 400% of one-way fare (cannot exceed $1,350)

           

          Note that according to US regulations, the airline must compensate you at the airport if you make the request. 

          Read more about US passenger rights 

           

          Refund or re-routing

          According to EC261, the first thing that you’re entitled to when the airline overbooks a flight and denies you boarding is a choice between:
          𑂽 The full or partial refund of your ticket, and with a free flight to get back to your point of departure, when applicable
          𑂽 An alternative flight to your final destination (if no flights are available, the airline can arrange a different mode of transportation)
          𑂽 A new ticket to your final destination, at a later date of your choosing, depending on seat availability

          Note on full and partial refunds:
          You are entitled to a full refund if this is the beginning of your trip (you still haven’t taken any flight). If you have already taken a portion of your journey, you can claim the reimbursement of the unused portion of the ticket. However, if you can prove that the trip no longer serves a purpose (e.g. you will miss a meeting that was the purpose of the trip), you can then claim a full refund instead of a partial one. 

           

          What are the length of the delay and the flight distance?

          The length of the delay is based on how late you reach your destination; it’s different than the delay at departure. To determine your eligibility, it’s therefore the arrival time that matters. It has been defined as the moment when the aircraft opens one of its doors after reaching its destination (European Court of Justice, case C-425/13, September 2014). 

          The flight distance is the distance between your point of departure and your final destination. This means that if your journey includes connections, your compensation will be based on the distance between your original starting point and the destination airport, not just the portion of the journey for which you were denied boarding.

           

          What is an overbooked flight under EU and US regulations?

          Overbooking is the practice of selling more tickets than there are seats on the plane. Airline do so when they believe that not all passengers who made a reservation will show up for the flight. They estimate that on average, 5% of the passengers will not turn up for the flight, but this number can be as high as 15%. 

          To maximize their profits and avoid flying with empty seats, airlines therefore sell more tickets than there are seats, betting on the fact that the additional tickets will compensate for the “no-shows”. They have statistics on how many passengers do not show up for a specific route to calculate how many seats are likely to not be filled. When their calculations are wrong and there aren’t enough seats on board, the flight is overbooked and some passengers are denied boarding. 

          Boarding denials cover a wider range of situations which include overbooking. It’s the process of refusing a passenger on board. In general, if it’s the airline’s fault that you are denied boarding, you are entitled to a denied boarding compensation, whether it is under EU or US law. This can happen when the flight is overbooked or if the airline has to use a smaller aircraft than the one that one initially planned, resulting in the lack of available seats on board. 

          When the airline cannot be held responsible for denying boarding to passengers, it is not required to compensate them. This happens when passengers do not have the required travel documents or arrive late at the gate, for example.

           

          Overbooked flight compensation for business travellers

          If the flight you are supposed to take for a business trip is overbooked and you are denied boarding although you did not volunteer, then you are entitled to compensation. Note that even if the company paid for the ticket, the overbooked flight compensation still goes to the employee, who suffered from the disruption. 

          Read more about flight compensation for disrupted business trips

           

          Are babies entitled to a compensation for overbooking?

          In cases of overbooking, the airline will start by asking for volunteers. If there aren’t enough of them, some randomly chosen passengers will be denied boarding. However, passengers with babies, along with disabled passengers and children travelling alone, cannot be denied boarding. 

          Read more about flight compensation for babies

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              Other Rights When Your Flight Is Overbooked

              Compensation in cash, voucher, or bank transfer

              As per the EU Regulation 261/2004, the overbooked flight compensation “shall be paid in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank cheques or, with the signed agreement of the passenger, in travel vouchers and/or other services."

              Do not feel obligated to accept a voucher offered by the airline, as you could be surrendering your right to a cash compensation. 

               

              Right to care: food, refreshments, accommodation, and communication

              Whether you voluntarily surrendered your seat or were denied boarding against your will, if you have to wait more than 2 hours for your next flight, the airline must enforce your right to care. They must provide you with food and refreshment in proportion to the length of the delay. Note that they usually do so in the form of a food voucher which can be used in the airport’s restaurants. 

               

              Upgrades and downgrades

              The airline will rebook you on a different flight when you are denied boarding due to overbooking. If the seat is on a higher class than the one that you had booked, they cannot charge you extra.  

              On the other hand, if the seat you end up with on the new flight is on a lower class, the airline must also provide a refund that ranges between 35 and 75% of the original ticket price.

               

              Further compensation

              If you feel that the overbooked flight compensation planned by EC261 isn’t enough, you can seek further compensation for damages. It’s likely that the amount of the EC261 compensation will be deducted from that other compensation, however. 
                   
              A situation in which you may want to ask further compensation is when the overbooking or your flight and the boarding denial that ensued caused you to lose a business opportunity. You could then claim compensation for damages under the Montreal Convention.

               

              Which Overbooked Flights Are Covered?

              Overbooked flights in the EU

              EC261 applies to:
              𑂽 All flights departing from the EU
              𑂽 Flights arriving in the EU that are operated by an airline headquartered in the EU

              Note that the EU airspace doesn’t only cover the EU. It includes also Iceland, Norway, Switzerland as well as the “outermost regions” - i.e. French Guiana and Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe and La Reunion, Saint-Martin, Madeira and the Azores, and the Canary Islands.

               

              Overbooked flights in the US

              US regulations on boarding denials apply to all flights departing from the US, whether they are domestic or international flights. This means that when your flight departing from a US airport is overbooked and you are denied boarding against your will, the airline owes you an overbooked flight compensation.

               

              Only involuntary boarding denials are covered

              Note that only involuntary boarding denials make you eligible for an overbooked flight compensation. If you volunteered to surrender your seat, for a refund or any other type of benefits, then you are not eligible. The same applies if you show up too late at the gate, do not have the required travel documents, or represent a health or security concern. 

               

              What To Do When Your Flight Is Overbooked?

                   𑂽 Do not voluntarily surrender your seat in exchange for a voucher, airline miles, or other perks. 
                   𑂽 Keep your travel documents (especially your boarding pass)

                   𑂽 If you are denied boarding, request a written confirmation that this is due to the overbooking of the flight. You will need this document as proof when you claim your overbooked flight compensation.

                   𑂽 Request an alternative flight to your destination, or a refund of your ticket

                   𑂽 Ask for a meal and refreshment if the delay before your rerouting flight is over 2 hours 

                   𑂽 If this flight is in more than 6 hours or on the next day, ask for accommodation and transportation between there and the airport

                   𑂽 Keep your receipts if the overbooking ends up costing you extra: you can claim a refund later

                   𑂽 Check if you’re entitled to an overbooked flight compensation

              Check your flight now!

                  How To Claim Compensation For Flight Cancellations?

                  You can claim compensation directly at the airport, but it’s rare that airlines pay the compensation immediately. It’s usually best to wait until you’ve reached your destination and the trip is over to claim both the overbooking compensation and the refund of your additional expenses.

                  Most passengers have neither the time nor the legal expertise to request compensation on their own. Others don’t feel like fighting the airline themselves. 

                  In these situations, ClaimCompass can handle the entire process for you.

                  𑂽 We let you know quickly if you’re entitled to compensation.
                  𑂽 We take care of the communication with the airline and, if necessary, legal actions.
                  𑂽 We work on a “no win, no fee” basis: we only take a commission if you receive your compensation. There are no risks for you. 

                   

                  Other Regulations on Overbooked Flights 

                  Overbooked flights in Canada

                  In Canada, passengers who are denied boarding as a result of an overbooked flight can also claim compensation. The airline must also call for volunteers first. If you do, however, you surrender your right to compensation.

                  The amount of the overbooked flight compensation that passengers can claim is based on the length of the delay at arrival at their final destination, like so: 

                  Length of the delay Compensation amount
                  0-6 hours C$900
                  6-9 hours C$1,800
                  9+ hours

                  C$2,400

                   

                  Payment must be issued at the airport. If it is unable to do so, they have 48h starting from the boarding denial to comply. If the delay is longer than expected, the airline must pay the supplement at arrival or at least within 48h. 

                  In addition, the airline must reroute passengers on another flight to their destination, at no extra cost. 

                  Read more about air passenger rights in Canada

                   

                  Montreal Convention: Cancellations on international flights

                  The Montreal Convention of 2003 has been signed by over 130 nations. It addresses “damages” that are the result of flight disruptions such as boarding denials due to overbooking. 

                  Let’s assume that the overbooking of your flight could cause you financial damage (because you had to pay an extra night at a hotel, for example). The Montreal Convention states that you are entitled to a refund for this additional expense.

                  Read more on the Montreal Convention and passenger rights on international flights.

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                  If you were bumped off a flight because the airline sold more tickets than they should have, you might be eligible to overbooking compensation!