After storms plagued Delta Air Lines with system-wide delays and cancelations last week, Laura Begley Bloom and her family headed to the airport on Friday for a planned long weekend trip to Fort Lauderdale, hoping that the worst of the disruptions had already passed.
But after many hours and delays, Delta gate agents began asking for volunteers to give up seats on the Blooms’ overbooked flight, which already had 60 standby passengers stranded from cancelations over the previous two days.
At first, Bloom says she ignored the offer, but once an announcement for $900 per seat was made, her husband approached the agent to say that he, his wife, and their 4-year old daughter would be willing to give up their seats for $1,500 a piece. The agent made a counteroffer of $1,350, which is the maximum amount an airline is able to compensate a passenger under U.S. law.
They were also told they would be re-booked on a flight leaving LaGuardia Airport early the next day. So the Blooms went home with $4,050 in gift cards, not bad considering that they’d originally paid $650 for each of the three seats.
But when Bloom went to check-in for their flights online Saturday morning, she saw that their new flight had already been delayed.
“I turned to my husband and said, ‘Cha-ching!,’” Bloom said. By the time they got to the airport, the airline had already started asking for volunteers. Again, they waited as the offers increased from $300… $600…$900…$1,000…and finally, $1,300 per seat, when they jumped and collected another $3,900 in gift cards.
The Delta agents also threw in lunch at $15 each and $50 in round-trip taxi fare for the ride home.
The gate agents began looking into re-book them on a Sunday flight, but when they later heard from other passengers that flights were overbooked until Tuesday April 11, Bloom and her husband decided that they would volunteer to cancel the trip entirely if they were further compensated. “We were shattered. At this point, we had spent another full day at the airport. So we offered to give up the trip altogether,” she said.
“The offer was met with smiles and another $1,000 per person in advance compensation. Delta sweetened the deal by refunding the cost of the three plane tickets,” Bloom said.
In total, the Blooms received nearly $11,000 — all entirely in gift cards. Delta will send an e-mail to volunteers with a link to a website, where they can use a code to choose the type of gift cards they wish to receive (American Express, Target, and Macy’s, for example).
A one-time deputy editor for Travel + Leisure and the former editor-in-chief of Yahoo Travel, Bloom currently works as a content strategist and wrote about the unexpected payday in her travel column for Forbes. “I’ve received a bunch of angry e-mails from people who said I am opportunistic, and another one said that I’m ‘tone deaf.’”
“I felt a bit guilty making so much money off the situation, but other passengers pointed out that we were freeing up seats for people who really needed to get somewhere,” Bloom said. “Many passengers actually thanked us for doing this.”
“We missed our vacation. We’re bummed about that. But I’ve had my share of travel nightmares over the years,” she told T+L. “I’ve had many situations where I’ve had to pay for my own hotel room and unplanned car rentals, so I don’t really feel that bad about making money this once.”
On both Friday and Saturday, the Blooms say they also bought lunch and bottles of water for the overworked Delta agents, one of whom had come to work on his day off to help with the chaos. She says many of the Delta employees had been working for 12+ hours with no break and were not able to leave the gate.
Check out the original post, where Bloom also provides advice on the best ways to negotiate the seat volunteering process.
This story originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.