What is overbooking? How can I get compensation?

Have you been the victim of overbooking, preventing you from boarding your flight? Here’s how to get your money back!

There’s nothing more irritating than being denied access to a plane, for an unknown and unforeseen reason, when you’ve planned everything for a wonderful vacation. When you arrive at the airport, your chosen airline’s employees prevent you from boarding the plane to visit New York, the Alhambra in Granada or the Colosseum in Rome? Bad luck, you lose a day or two of your trip, as well as being disappointed and caught off guard… If the situation seems to have turned into a disaster, it’s because it’s above all a question of an increasingly widespread practice of financial optimization: overbooking.

To overcome this problem, a number of companies have specialized in compensating « victims ». Like Flightright, they all have the same objective: to see justice done.

But what is overbooking? How can you be taken care of by these specialists and, above all, how can you obtain compensation for a delayed and/or cancelled flight? Find out in our special overbooking review.

What is overbooking?


Overbooking stems from yield management, a management strategy that emerged in the United States in 1978, enabling newly-created airlines to offer fares that defied all competition. This same strategy gave rise to the so-called low-cost flights, generating at the same time the emergence of last-minute and other cheaper airline tickets.

This managerial approach to the airline industry was voted in so that airlines would have more freedom to set their own fares, breaking up the market for traditional airlines. To counter the competition, the latter reacted by developing their offer in ticket sales, price management, demand analysis and market segmentation. With the Single European Act of 1986, a higher level of economic integration of the member countries of the European Economic Community, European airlines were able to take advantage of this new openness to competition by applying the principle of price freedom in the airline sector: overbooking thus made its thunderous entry into travel agencies and, later, into low-cost flight comparators on the Internet.

How does Surbooking work?

More and more airlines, in their quest to maximize sales – and profits – are engaging in the bizarre practice of selling more tickets than there are seats available on the plane. As a result, when you arrive at the baggage check-in counter, you are denied boarding. Why this apparently fraudulent practice? Quite simply because it stems from deregulation – a relaxation of the law – offering greater freedom in setting fares: competing airlines make sure they fill their planes by anticipating the costs associated with no-shows.

As it is governed by European law, overbooking is not fraudulent. It does, however, cause a great deal of inconvenience to the travelers who have to pay for it, but airlines are required to respect certain conditions, in particular that travelers are taken care of and offered an alternative flight to the same destination. It may happen that the company changes the reservation to place you on another flight, or that you are placed on a smaller plane than planned, because not enough tickets were sold. In all these cases, the price of the ticket remains unchanged.

What can be done about overbooking? What compensation is available?

Retard de vol à l'aéroport

  • Airline companies

If you are overbooked, the airline is legally obliged to offer you an alternative flight to the same destination. This means that the traveler is offered to wait for a new flight at the airport, and the airline must cover all the expenses and primary needs of the waiting traveler: accommodation, catering, telephone calls, drinks and refreshments. Access to the next flight should therefore not affect the price of the ticket. If you decide not to take the next flight for any reason, the airline must refund your ticket within seven clear days. However, there are conditions attached to this refund: travelers must have a reservation, and have checked in their baggage no later than 45 minutes before the start of boarding.

Even if the airline has reimbursed you in full for the cost of the ticket, you are entitled to compensation from the airline for the moral prejudice you have suffered. Under Community law, there are three levels of compensation for intra-Community flights and three others for flights outside the European Union:

  • Up to 1,500 kilometers: €250 within the European Union or between the EU and a non-member country,
  • From 1,500 km to 3,500 km: €400 within the European Union or between the EU and a non-EU country,
  • Over 3,500 km: €400 within the EU, and €600 between the EU and a non-EU country.

Please note that the airline is obliged to provide you with written instructions on how to claim compensation. This notice should include the airline’s contact details, which you can use to send a claim by registered mail with acknowledgement of receipt to the airline’s customer service department. If your booking has been unilaterally modified by the airline and your arrival and departure times have changed, you can file a claim for compensation by contacting the airline that actually operated the flight (sometimes this is a different airline to the one originally booked).

Problem: contact details are often hidden, untraceable or non-existent. This is why there are service providers whose mission is to negotiate compensation with airlines on behalf of their customers who have been the victims of overbooking. If the airline refuses to compensate the passenger, even in writing, you can take your case to the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC). You can also take the airline to court, but this can take a long time.

Indemnisation vol annulé ou retardé

  • Compensation specialists

To avoid having to bear the burden of all these procedures, and quickly finding yourself at a loss when faced with such situations, there is a solution, and not the least of which is to contact a service provider specializing in airline compensation claims. Like a legal adviser, the latter takes on the onerous task of claiming compensation and asserting your rights with the airline concerned.

As a European reference, Flightright can help you claim compensation. In the event of a delayed, cancelled or overbooked flight, and after having obtained your flight number, a team of international legal experts will take charge of obtaining compensation within the framework of European law. By intervening directly with the airline concerned, Flightright can even take you to court, if necessary, to obtain your compensation. You’ll be spared lengthy legal proceedings, and can claim up to €600 per passenger (excluding ticket price).

The rest is simple and suggests two possible scenarios:

-The airline is held responsible: Flightright obtains compensation and takes a 27% commission (+ VAT) on the amount obtained.

-The airline is not held responsible: you don’t get compensation, but you don’t have to pay anything to Flightright.

Good to know: 95% of Flightright claims are settled. In the case of a lawsuit, the company has a 99% success rate.