Most airline passengers unaware of rights to compensation when bumped

Airlines always offer you some sort of compensation when they involuntarily bump you from your flight. But travel experts say in most cases what you get is nowhere near what you're entitled to.

When Jonita Murphy checked in for her long-awaited trip to Hawaii, getting bumped was not on her itinerary. Murphy hadn't given much thought about compensation if she did get bumped involuntarily.

"Well I'd like a free dinner, I think. Or lunch or whatever. And maybe a partial on a flight," she said.

Most passengers have no idea how much getting bumped is worth and are not aware of the federal rules regarding involuntary bumping. If there's a 1 to 2 hour delay to your destination, you're entitled to 2 times the cost of a one-way fare -- up to $650. If the delay to destination is 2 hours or more, you get 4 times the cost of the one-way fare -- up to $1,300.

But you have to know to ask. And travel expert Steve Danishek says airlines typically don't volunteer the information when they're bumping you.

"If you know what to ask for, they're obliged to follow the rules," said Danishek. "But they can offer you anything. They're not obliged to offer you up to the maximum amount, so obviously, if they offer you airline miles or a voucher, that's better for them. It's obviously cheaper for an airline to offer you a voucher which costs them nothing, than to give you a check for $200, or $400 or up to $1,300."

The federal rule for bumping compensation law does not apply to weather or mechanical delays and it might not apply to frequent flyer or internet discounters. The key is to make yourself familiar with bumping rules and other passenger compensation guidelines. And be aware that thanks to a regulation called EU261, the compensation laws are often even more consumer friendly if you're delayed or your luggage is lost while flying in Europe.