Last Minute Upgrade Fees

Tracy Stewart, October 28, 2010
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q. During check in online for a Milwaukee to Los Angeles flight, we paid $25 each for "premium" seats in order to sit where we wanted. While we were waiting at the gate, an announcement was made that there were a few first class seats available for $100 each. We didn't attempt to purchase those seats, but wondered if we would have lost the $25 fee we had paid.

    A. Chances are that the airline wouldn't be able to re-sell your prime spots at the last minute and therefore they'd keep the fee. Indeed, most airline fees are non-refundable. We once paid extra for an exit row seat on JetBlue, but changed to an earlier flight. We weren't allowed to apply the fee to exit row seating on the earlier flight, even though seats were available. By the way, $100 is a pretty amazing deal for first class on that route, and I would have grabbed it. Airlines are increasingly offering cheap last minute upgrades, and even if you don't hear an offer at the gate, it's not a bad idea to ask about whether one is available next time you check in.