Almost every airline will now try to make you cough up some cash to select specific seats, but here’s how to be seated with you travel companions for free.
Ultra Low-Cost Carriers (ULCCs) are the best thing to have happened to the airline industry, making flying so much more affordable. Most of them charge for seat selection, which allows them to offer ridiculously low flights (you can find those on our flight deals page).
READ ALSO: How Ultra Low-Cost Carriers (ULCC) Work
In fact, most regular airlines now charge for seat selection anyways. It’s often around $10-$30 per seat per flight segment, so if you cave in and pay for that, it can add up quickly. You shouldn’t do it.
No matter which airline you’re flying on, don’t ever pay to select a seat.
By the way, you shouldn’t pay baggage fees either, you can read our article about that.
I personally flew on well above 100 flights where I was offered the privilege of choosing a seat for a fee, and I’ve never paid a single dollar for that. I think you shouldn’t either.
Why? Because there is a way to be seated with your travel companion for free, that will work 95% of the time.
1. Check-in online precisely 24 hours before your flight
Almost all airlines allow you to check-in online and print your own ticket precisely 24 hours before your flight takes off by going on their website with your confirmation number.
As soon as you buy a plane ticket, set an alarm on your cellphone for 24 hours before takeoff and go check-in at exactly that moment. That way you’ll almost surely be seated with your travel companion (for free) since you’ll be among the first to select seats.
That way you won’t have to pay and at least 9 times out of 10 you’ll be automatically seated with the person you are travelling with. Let me be clear: this works if you check-in 24 hours before your flight, not 20 hours. If you wait a few hours, everyone else will have checked-in online and you might be stuck with bad seats.
The same goes with ULCCs. Even though some won’t ever let you actually select seats (as opposed to regular airlines), at least by being the first to check-in you ensure you’re basically never separated. Only those who wait at the airport to check-in get split up… which makes sense, you are among the last to check-in, there are no other seats left by that point.
It only takes about 5 minutes to check-in, and you don’t even need a printer right then and there. You can save your boarding pass as a PDF document and print it later. You can even print it at the airport in the self-service kiosks if you don’t know anyone who owns a printer. Many airlines have apps where you can check-in and have your boarding pass on your phone, which is even simpler.
Another bonus is that if you’re travelling with a carry-on only (which you should always do), you can avoid any wait at the airport and head straight to security. That is a good enough reason to check-in online in and of itself. And even if you are an inexperienced traveler that brings checked luggage, at least you’ll be able to use the baggage drop line and avoid the wait at the check-in counter.
READ ALSO: Top 10 Behaviors to Avoid on a Plane
By the way, there is another perk. If you are among those who are scared of overbookings, you should know that after travelers with elite-status, the first passengers to be protected when airlines are looking for people to bump from a flight are the ones who have checked-in first. Another reason to do it at home early.
2. You’ll probably regret waiting until you’re at the airport
You could always try getting to the airport early, but we don’t recommend it. Why? Most people now check-in online, so if you wait until you’re at the airport, all the best seats will probably be taken and you’ll be stuck with what’s left.
On top of that, some ultra low-cost carriers charge a fee for an airport check-in in addition to the fee to select a specific seat. I couldn’t agree more with that business model: employess cost money, so why should I subsidize your inability to print your ticket at home through my own fare? You want to waste an airline employee’s time? Pay up!
3. Plan B for when it doesn’t work
In case the online check-in hasn’t given you the seats you wanted, you have a couple of options.
It can happen, even though out of 100 times in my case, it has only happened once. That time, since it was a short 3 hour flight, we just kept our separate seating. Believe it or not, we survived. It’s not the end of the world.
That’s option 1 if you’re assigned separate seats, just relax and listen to some music in your separate seats. Unless you have kids or are on a 14-hour flight to Asia, it shouldn’t be so bad. And even then, now airlines aren’t supposed to split kids from their parents at all, even when you don’t pay for seat selection.
But there’s a second option: you can always try to trade seats with someone on-board. In most cases, another passenger won’t mind switching places with you, unless you are very unlucky. Just be polite and ask a few people around, you should find someone who is willing to change… as long as you don’t offer a middle seat to someone who isn’t in a middle seat (that’s just insulting).
READ ALSO: How To Fly to Any European City At a Low Price
Finally, the last option is to simply pay up. You can easily go back and pay for seats afterwards on most airlines’ website or at the airport, so if you’re gonna pay anyways, at least give it a try before to get the seats for free. And it won’t cost more if you pay later, so try this trick first!
Don’t forget to check out our pro tip to get a full row of seats for free when travelling with someone else or how to get an empty seat next to you when flying solo (coming soon).
If you want to travel more, saving money each time is the key. By not wasting money on seat selection, especially when this free trick works so often.
Have you ever tried this trick?
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This Post Has 32 Comments
A number of very experienced travellers still take checked baggage especially if cruising!! The 24 hour rule doesn’t always work esp. if its a popular route. We collect points and use these to select seats in advance.
Unfortunately, that’s one of the worst redemptions for points in terms of value, at least for those who want to maximize them.
And sure a lot of people bring checked bags, but it’s still not the way to go to be a pro flier; it’s just not 😛 To each their own, but carry-on only is still better — cruise or
And yes it’s true the trick doesn’t work all the time as we said, but it works a lot more often than not 🙂
I flew last year to london, malta, germany and prague. All airlines wanted me to pay for seat selection. I would check in at exactly 24hrs before the flight. Alot of seats were blocked out. I got my window (over the wing seat). Imagine my surprise when i board Virgin to heathrow and half the plane was empty. People asked the FA if they could change seats. No problem they said. Im so happy i never shelled out extra money to pick a seat.
Roundtrip from JFK to LHR i had the entire row to myself.
Malta i was put in the front of the plane. Prague to LHR on BA they allowed me to change to a different row.
Travel off peak and never pay extra.
Exactly 😉 Thanks for sharing your experience !!!
I used to do the 24 hr. before flight seat booking but over the last 2years I have found that it has changed and most of the good seats and isle seats are gone
Am I ever glad I found your article. You saved me money. However I need to know if I did pay to select a seat but my flight involved two planes to get from point A to point B if the seat I selected would be the same on the second plane (same airline just with a layover) and if I would be charged for two seats.
Hi, unfortunately every flight segment is considered separately, so you would have to pay an additional extra to choose in advance for the 2nd flight as well :S
Can you sign in before 24 hours to pick a seat? I am travelling with my Yorkie. I am planning to fly with American Airlines.
Hi! Check-in only opens 24 hours before the flight (at least in North America) so any seat selection before that will incur a fee, unless you booked one of the more expensive fare classes. Not sure about the pet policy though, never did that :S
Hi. I am a single female traveler going from Ottawa to Da Nang Vietnam. In my booking it suggests I pick my seats. I need to book a isle seat for the long haul. Do you still advise me to check in 24 hours ahead to book my seats?
Hi, with many airlines if you need to be 100% sure, the only way is to pay ahead. If you can tolerate a bit of risk, usually if you check in precisely 24 hours before the flight or call the airline when checkin is open, you can be pretty sure to get what you want 🙂
I have booked a flight from Ottawa to Da Nang Vietnam with CheapO Air. I went on their support page today and they told me I have to check in with each airline that I am booked with to check in. They gave me no idea regards to seat selection. I am not a frequent flyer. I am a senior. I flew once to Australia and I never had to check in with each airline. Any ideas?
Hello, yes well it depends whether or not your outbound flights are with the same airline or airlines who partner together. You’ll need to use the Booking Number / Confirmation Number / Booking Reference / Ticket Number as provided by CheapOair and use that to see your seat selection option on the airline’s website (or you can call too). If you are flying two different airlines, you’ll need to do it separately for both.
I booked my tickets to Frankfurt from Delhi through Ukraine International Airlines. In my web check-in they automatically selected my seats which I was not comfortable with. I clicked on the option of change seats and guess what I had to pay for seats I wanted in the economy class. Every one in the family said, this has never happened before that one had to pay for the seats but I had to.
Hello Arunika, yes that is quite possible with some Ultra Low-Cost Carriers and even low-cost carriers, which UIA can be considered to be. Unfortunately for those, there’s no other way but to pay to select a seat if you really want to choose. But in thoses cases it usually doesn’t hurt to wait until check-in to see if the randomly assigned seat is good enough for free.
Do u book econo seats & still get to book your seat for free within 24 hrs of your flight with Air Canada within Canada
Unless I have missed it? – What if almost all seats have been pre-booked, and the only seats available are single seats? We are due to travel to Hong Kong from London, Premium economy two persons in five weeks, and this matter is quite a worry
Premium economy might be a bit different, because indeed there are so much less of those on a plane. You could call the airline to check, you paid a hefty premium for that seat class compared to economy, so I would assume it should give you some leverage to be seated together (although I really can’t say for sure having never bought premium economy).
Worked great for us on Emirates flights to and from Africa, it was $60 per seat per sector if I remember correctly. I acted on my reminder 48hrs ahead and there was no problem even when the 2nd flight commenced outside that 48hr period. Got excellent seats in the most forward economy section – best long flight I’ve ever had(17hrs!)
Reading the small print of Air New Zealand it seems they will refund the selection fee on flights to and from the USA. Don’t know why this is, but investigation brought me to this site!
Thanks for the advice. I haven’t flown in some time, and I didn’t realize they now charge for seat selection – ridiculous!
Not really. Some people really don’t care where they sit, by taking the convenience of choosing a seat out of the price, it makes the ticket cheaper for those who want less options. So yes, they now charge for seat selection… but they also sometimes charge $247CAD for a roundtrip flight from Montreal or Toronto to Europe, which is pretty insane 😛
it works — Mr Fly must be working in the airline industry —
Thanks John! We do fly a lot so we pick up a few tricks and share them with you guys! Thanks for reading 🙂
Nice try Andrew’s second account.
Haha… I can guarantee I don’t have any time to waste creating fake accounts, don’t worry.
When you are searching a flight you need to fill the first page on the second they ask you to make reservation of the seats. You can ‘t go to the tirth page to pay when you not fill the second page. So you need to order your seats firrst mostly on a crazy price..
Hello Daniel, I’ve bought many flights and never seen one where you HAVE to select a seat (and I’ve been on 44 different airlines), I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. They usually have a button that says “skip this step”, “choose later” and it’s often a bit hidden because they want people to fall for it and pay up. Although I guess it’s possible that a smaller airline has a dishonest policy like you describe, which airline was it?
I have also flown well over 100 thousand miles the last year and a half. And no, this isn’t a good idea for people that want to sit together. Anyone reading this shouldn’t go fo this.
Well, we’ll just agree to disagree haha 😛
Lmao this isn’t true and will not work, terrible advice to save a couple dollars. It may work an anecdotally but that’s it. You can only have seats together if everyone else on the plane hasn’t already taking up the majority of rows by selecting their own seats with friends or family. And at some airlines, if you do this, you will not be assigned a seat at all, until boarding, and you’ll be put in whatever seats are left, sprinkled all over the cabin.
I’ve flown over 200 flights in the past few years. Always check-in online 24 hours before the flight, happened like only once that I wasn’t sitting with my travel companions. It’s not anecdotal, you’ll get first selection of seats by being the first to check-in (apart from those who paid money to choose). Of course if you don’t check in online and wait at the airport, then you’ll get split up for sure yes!