Why You Should Never Pay To Select Seats

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).

Bottom Line

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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Andrew D'Amours

Andrew is the co-founder of Flytrippers. He is passionate about travelling the world but also, as a former management consultant, about the travel industry itself, he aims to help you save money on travel. As a very cost-conscious traveller, he loves finding deals and getting free travel thanks to Travel Hacking... to help him visit every country in the world (current count: 41/193 Countries, 46/50 US States & 9/10 Canadian Provinces).

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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!

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