Overbooking is a booking strategy used by airlines, hotels, and other hospitality providers to maximize occupancy and compensate for no-shows or last-minute cancellations.
The concept behind overbooking involves selling or confirming bookings for more rooms or seats than the actual capacity available. This is done because research shows there is always a small percentage of customers that end up canceling or not showing up on the travel date, despite having a confirmed booking.
By overbooking at a calculated, controlled rate, providers can minimize the number of empty rooms or seats while still accommodating the majority of travelers that arrive as scheduled. Airlines in particular determine historical no-show rates for their routes and book extra passengers accordingly up to a limit.
If more travelers show up than there are seats at departure time, airlines first ask for volunteers willing to take a later flight in exchange for compensation before denying boarding to any customers involuntarily. Involuntary denied boardings may be entitled to monetary reimbursement, accommodations, and amenities depending on laws and policies.
So in summary, overbooking is the practice of confirming more bookings than actual space available to account for an expected number of cancellations and no-shows, all calculated to maximize occupancy revenue potential on hotels and flights.
How to Avoid Overbooking?
Here are some tips to minimize the risk of being involuntarily denied boarding due to overbooking:
Check-in as early as possible. Airlines will first deny boarding to passengers who check in late or miss their check-in window.
Enroll in loyalty programs. Members of airline loyalty rewards programs and elite status travelers are usually the last to be denied boarding in an oversale situation.
Avoid peak travel dates. Overbooking tends to happen more frequently around major holidays, popular travel weekends, and other high-demand dates. Being flexible with travel can reduce the likelihood.
Don’t book the cheapest non-refundable tickets. Tickets with no refunds or changes have the highest risk of being selected for involuntary denial in an oversale event. Pay a bit more for refundability if possible.
Ask at check-in about the flight. Agents may know if the flight is expected to be oversold and can note your reservation to have priority to board if you may be at risk.
Respond to requests for volunteers. If the airline is asking for volunteers to take a later flight, agree to it in exchange for compensation.
Know your rights if involuntarily denied boarding. Rules vary globally, but passengers are due some amount of monetary reimbursement and amenities/accommodations.
While overbooking can still impact passengers following all guidelines, these tips can significantly reduce the chances of being denied boarding against your will.