How to Get the Best Airline Seats Without Paying Extra

Everyone understands that seats in first class are roomier than in coach. But did you know that some seats in coach are better than others?

Seats may be narrower in the back of the plane. Also, some seats may have more “pitch” — the space between your seat and the seat in front of you — than others.

Get the wrong seat and you’ll have less legroom, more fights for the armrest and possibly a worse flight.

If you’re a tired of being shoehorned into increasingly cramped airline seats, there are ways to get more space without upgrading to first class or paying more for better seats in coach.

Following are tips that can help you get the best seats the next time you book a flight.

What makes a seat great

What separates a good seat from a bad seat? Here are some guidelines:

  • Avoid the middle seat. The best seats are the window or aisle seats toward the front of the plane. In the middle seat, you can be sandwiched between two oversized folks.
  • Sit over the wing. Sitting over the wing may help you feel less turbulence.
  • Choose emergency exit rows. Seats in these rows generally have more legroom than a regular seat. However, keep in mind that no one under the age of 15 can ride in the exit row. So if you’re traveling with kids and want them sitting next to you, this is not an option.
  • Take a seat in the first row. You may also get more legroom if you take a seat in the first row, directly behind the separating wall. As an added bonus, no one will be able to lean back into your laptop or turn around and talk to you during your in-flight nap.

How to get the best seats

To nab the best seats, try the following:

  • Compare planes and seats online. To increase revenue, some airlines have added seats to their planes, making the plane more cramped. Sites such as SeatGuru and SeatExpert rate seats on the planes of each airline for roominess, features and drawbacks.
  • Join the frequent-flier program. Many airlines set aside their best coach seats for premium or elite members. If you frequently travel on the same airline, sign up for the frequent-flier program, then enter your number when you buy tickets. Once you’ve earned premium status, you’ll have free access to better seats.
  • Book early. Doing this will give you more selection to choose from among seats not set aside for elite customers and those willing to pay more.
  • Use a travel agent. Travel agents may have access to better seats than people who book their own flights online. You’ll have to pay to use a travel agent, but the price is often only $20 to $30.
  • Get a better seat later. If you end up booking a middle seat, sign up for a site like ExpertFlyer.com. If a better seat opens up, the site will notify you immediately, and you may be able to change your seat selection. However, check with the airline to make sure you won’t be charged for the change.
  • Plan ahead with travel buddies. If you’re flying as a couple, consider booking the window seat and the aisle seat. Since middle seats are unpopular, perhaps no one will book that seat. But don’t count on it. When was the last time you flew on a plane that wasn’t full?
  • Suck it up and pay the price. If all else fails, you can always pay for a better seat in coach. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to more than $100, depending on the airline.

Last-minute options

If you’re down to the wire and facing a cramped middle seat for a long cross-country flight, you may still be able to turn things around. When check-in starts, unreserved seats go up for grabs.

So, once the check-in process begins — typically 24 hours before the flight’s departure — log on to the airline’s website and try to select a better, unclaimed seat. You’ll have to act fast — these seats go quickly.

If all else fails, turn on the charm. A smile and a nice conversation with the gate agent, flight attendant or even another passenger might get you a better seat.

Do you have any tips for getting the best seats, and avoiding bad ones? Let us know in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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