How I Lost $400 in One Minute.

I did a stupid thing at the airport last week.

I approached the staff working at the gate counter and asked – as I always do – “Is there any chance this flight might be overbooked, and needing volunteers to be bumped off the flight?”

“Actually, yes,” the man replied. “If you agree to get bumped, I’ll give you a $400 voucher for a future flight. Where’s your final destination?”

“I’m heading to Cincinnati,” I said.

He frowned. “I can’t get you there,” he said, “but I can get you on a flight to Dayton, Ohio by 5 pm.”

Dayton, Ohio is only an hour from Cincinnati – and my boyfriend, who’s driving into Cincinnati from the far north, has to pass through Dayton en route regardless.

What I should have said is: “Sweet! I’ll take it!”

Instead I said: “Let me call my boyfriend to make sure he can pick me up from Dayton. I’ll give you an answer in 2 minutes.”

Of course he would say yes. He’d be passing through Dayton anyway. Asking him was a mere formality – a way to be polite, before committing myself to a permanent flight change.

Big mistake. Those 2 minutes cost me $400. By the time I returned to the counter to tell the man my answer is yes, he no longer needed volunteers.

Lessons Learned?

Be Decisive.

In the world of airlines (and in the world in general), you must be decisive. When a great opportunity presents itself, pounce. The world does not reward wafflers.

Be okay with big wins and big losses.

Okay, so I lost $400. While negotiating for a car, saying the wrong thing could lose me $4,000. Negotiating for a house, saying the wrong thing could lose me $40,000. The world is filled with big gains and big losses. You’ll experience both. In the long run, you simply have to win more often – and win bigger sums – than you lose.

Take Initiative.

The staff didn’t ask for volunteers – I offered. As a result, I received an opportunity I otherwise never would have had.

Be Persistent.

I had a layover in Charlotte, en route from Atlanta to Cincinnati. At the gate in Charlotte, I asked again if the airline is looking for volunteers. Again, the man at the gate said yes.

He said could get me on a flight to Dayton by 5:40 pm. I accepted immediately. The route was shorter, so he offered me a smaller voucher – only $225 in flight credit instead of $400. Still, that means my flight to Cincinnati would be effectively free.

Cash FLOWS – easy come, easy go.

As I sat in the airport waiting for my now-later flight to Dayton, I heard my name being paged over the intercom. I went to the gate desk, where I learned that my second attempt at volunteering my ticket – and collecting $225 – also failed. The airlines no longer needed my seat.

In the blink of an eye, hundreds of potential dollars can come and go. That’s why it’s called cash “flow.” Understanding the ebb-and-flow of money is key to not taking it too seriously. Don’t pinch pennies; look for big opportunities instead.

I may have lost $400 – but can I get you to subscribe for free?


  1. says

    Wow, that sucks. Similar has happened to my husband a few times, as he is NOT decisive at all. He gets very nervouse when I just say yes to things like that, so now I do it, then tell him this is what we are doing, lol.

    What an up and down day for you!

    • says

      @Kylie — Haha, I like your strategy of saying yes first, then clearing it with your husband. It reminds me of that old saying: “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.”

      @Christa — I’m still working on being more decisive … hopefully I’ll get the next voucher! :-)

  2. says

    We’ve been thinking about those circumstances a lot lately.

    My fiance assumed he had work one day and turned down another opportunity for work…only to end up not having work at all.

    by the time he figured out his mistake, it was too late to get the gig.

  3. says

    My problem is I’m too quick to make decisions like that and think about the repercussions after the fact. It’s had a similar effect (negative consequences) so you can look at it both ways.

  4. says

    Yes, it did suck, but on the other hand, you could console yourself that it was just meant to be. Perhaps you might have sprained your ankle in Dayton, or lost your luggage. Or, maybe this lesson learned and new awareness may lead you to an even better and lucrative snap decision down the road.

  5. says

    Oh my goodness! I would be so pissed too. But like you, I would have done the same thing as a mere formality to my BF who would be picking me up. I will now offer to give up my seat thanks to your blog post! I fly almost every month!

  6. says

    Too bad about the missed opportunities, but it made for a great read! I’m sure you learned your lesson. Very thoughtful you were so courteous to your boyfriend, but you have to be confident that he would understand.

  7. says

    First time reader of your site. I like it! Good point with this article, though this is one kind of situation that I am not often in. I’m from Canada, and in Canada the airlines don’t routinely overbook. However, I can also offer the opposite advice :) In many cases when you, at least by appearance, struggle to make a decision during a negotiation then the other party will improve their offer. I’ve have that many times. But yeah, in a situation where there is free money on the table that won’t last, grab it! Thanks.

    • says

      @Alex — You’re totally right; struggling to make a decision is a great negotiation tactic, especially if it’s the end of the day or the other party is super-motivated to sell. In the case of the overbooked flight, there were just too many free-money takers!

  8. says

    “Be decisive. Act swiftly. You win some, you lose some. That’s why they call it cash flow.” Sounds much more like the mantras of somebody with a gambling problem (I’m not suggewsting the author has one).

    In this case, you “lost” nothing–you didn’t “have” the $400 to begin with, so nothing was out-of-pocket. Assuming you make a reasonable middle-class wage (somewhere below $100K), if a quick decision really cost you $40,000 out of pocket, I don’t think you would have written this article. You would have written one about the dangers of acting too quickly without knowing all the facts, and how doing so had cost you several years of your life to repay it.

    • says

      @Harry — If you have to weigh pros vs. cons when making a decision, then it makes sense to take a little more time to think about it. In this case (the flight), there were no “cons.” I could just as easily have flown to Dayton instead of Cincinnati, and I could just as easily have arrived at 5 pm instead of 3 pm … there literally were no negative consequences to me taking the option that would have saved me $400. That’s why I regret not acting more decisively about it, and not grabbing the “all upside” opportunity while I had the chance.

      With gambling, there are some pretty serious “cons” involved. :-)

  9. says

    Received a lot of airline tickets by being the first one to jump up in the plane. Gets pretty funny when a lot of people try to get those free flights.

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