The odds are pretty slim--surprisingly, less than 1 in 10,000--that an airline will bump you if you have a reservation. That's because carriers with oversold flights can usually persuade enough volunteers to relinquish their seats. But if you are bumped and the airline rebooks you, the U.S. Department of Transportation has some very clear rules about the compensation you're entitled to:

  • Nothing, if the new flight is scheduled to get you to your destination within an hour of your original scheduled arrival time.
  • $200 (maximum, or the one-way fare), if you'll arrive between one and two hours late (one to four hours for international flights).
  • $400 (maximum, or twice the one-way amount), if you'll be more than two hours late (more than four hours internationally).
  • You always get to keep your original ticket for use on, or credit toward, a future flight.

These protections don't apply if: you missed the check-in deadline (anywhere from 10 minutes to one hour before departure); the airline had to substitute a smaller plane for the one originally scheduled; or you're bumped from a plane with fewer than 61 seats.