We share incredibly cheap flights with our users every day, and occasionally receive a snarky comment that there are extra costs we haven’t considered. The fare, plus bag, plus seat, plus food, plus xyz. And to be fair, the initial price you see for a flight does not include much anymore. But there really is a way to only pay that initial price. Contrary to what some people believe, you do not have to pay extra for a seat.
Sit Anywhere on the Plane for Free
Just as restaurants may ask for an extra fee if you want a special side dish or concert venues may charge more for specific seats rather than general admission, most airlines do charge extra if you want to pick a certain seat. I know this isn’t how it used to be, but Basic Economy is here to stay and this is just simply how the industry has evolved. The good news is that airfares are still historically low and, if you are diligent and don’t need all the frills of yesteryear, you can fly super cheap and sit anywhere (read somewhere) on the plane for free.
Don’t Be Fooled Into Paying to Choose a Seat
Airlines want you to pay extra to choose a seat — even middle seats. This is one reason airlines are able to sell tickets for pennies or across oceans for only a couple hundred dollars. The airlines are making big profits from ancillary fees and do everything possible to keep the actual airfare lower than the competition. As consumers of air travel, we need to be careful to only pay for what we want and not get fooled into paying more than we intend. In my opinion, the seat fee is one of the easiest airline fees to avoid.
It can be confusing when going through the booking steps and you may not even realize an extra seat fee was added by the time you get to the final payment screen. Even if an airline’s website makes it appear that you have to pay extra for a seat, you are never required to choose a specific seat and can always opt to decline seat selection in lieu of a FREE seat assignment during check-in.
Related: Passenger Etiquette: The Basic Rules of the Armrest
Watch for Pop-Ups and Automatic Add-Ons
The biggest culprits in trying to force seat selection fees are ultra-low-cost carriers like Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit. None of the fares sold by these airlines include seat selection, but there are certain bundles you can add on, which would include seat assignments. Some legacy airlines have simply made seat selection unavailable for Basic Economy fares and require that you purchase a standard or Main Cabin Economy ticket in order to choose a seat in advance.
Below, I’ll go over specifics on what to look for during the seat selection step when booking on the larger U.S. carriers. These same tactics can be used for international carriers. Just remember, you are never required to pay an extra seat fee.
How to Avoid Seat Fees on Alaska Airlines
Flying Alaska Airlines is one of the easiest ways to avoid a seat fee, because even Alaska’s version of Basic Economy, the “Saver” fare, includes limited free seat assignments at the back of the plane. When choosing seats on the seat map, scroll to the bottom to find seats marked with a “S” for Saver fare seats. Seats shown in a dark blue color are for passengers purchasing a “Main” class fare only so you’ll have to upgrade to that type of fare to choose those seats in advance. If you’re buying a Saver fare and don’t like the choice of seats, simply click on “Skip Seats” and you’ll be assigned seats for free during check-in, which may include seats towards the front of the plane.
How to Avoid Seat Fees on Allegiant Airlines
When the seat selection screen appears on Allegiant’s website, it doesn’t even indicate that there are fees associated with choosing a seat. However, if you do click on a certain seat, a pop-up will appear telling you the price and you’ll have to confirm that you agree. To bypass this and avoid paying a fee, just scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Continue”. You’ll have to do this for both flights if you are booking a roundtrip. Another pop-up will appear warning that you haven’t chosen a seat and asking if it’s ok. Just click “Yes, Continue” and be on your way without caving in to Allegiant’s fear of separation anxiety tactics.
Related: The 10 Best Underseat Carry-On Bags for Basic Economy
How to Avoid Seat Fees on American Airlines
American Airlines does not necessarily try to trick you into paying a seat fee when booking. Its Basic Economy fares do not allow advanced seat selection for domestic or short-haul international flights, and therefore, you simply won’t be shown a seat map when booking a Basic Economy ticket. For transatlantic flights, Basic Economy fares do allow you to choose specific seats during booking for a fee, but prices are clearly displayed on the seat map. To avoid a fee, just click on the small text that reads “skip seats for all flights” and your seats will be assigned for free upon check-in. And if you avoid Basic Economy entirely, you’ll be able to choose seats in advance for any flight when booking a Main Cabin Economy ticket.
How to Avoid Seat Fees on Delta
Delta sells Basic Economy tickets in more markets than any other airline. And while some aspects of Delta’s Basic Economy differ depending on the destination, advanced seat assignments are simply not allowed for any Basic Economy ticket on Delta. Of course, Delta doesn’t want to actually sell its Basic Economy fares. Anytime you select a basic fare, you’ll get a pop-up asking if you’d like to move to Main Cabin Economy fare, which includes seat selection. If you don’t want to pay more, just click on the checkbox that you accept restrictions and then click on the small “Continue with Basic Economy” text to avoid the upcharge. Seats will be assigned for free after check-in.
How to Avoid Seat Fees on Frontier Airlines
Frontier doesn’t really try to mask the fact that you’ll pay to choose a seat. You’ll see prices listed for each seat directly on the seat map. To avoid a fee, scroll to the bottom and click on the green “Continue” button without choosing a seat. A pop-up will then appear and you’ll have to click on the small print “No Thanks, I’ll take whatever.” link to actually continue.
How to Avoid Seat Fees on Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines now offers a Basic Economy fare. While it’s currently limited to only a few routes between the U.S. mainland and Honolulu, Hawaiian’s “Main Cabin Basic” fare is likely to spread throughout its network eventually. This type of fare does not allow advanced seat assignments but you’ll always be asked to confirm your selection when booking a “Main Cabin Basic” fare. And not just once — a second pop-up appears during the booking process asking “Want to choose your seats?” To avoid the upcharge for a “Main Cabin” ticket, just click “No thanks” and you’ll be able to select seats during check-in.
Related: How to Choose the Best Seat on a Plane
How to Avoid Seat Fees on JetBlue
JetBlue was the latest airline to implement a Basic Economy fare, which it calls "Basic Blue". This fare requires a fee to choose a specific seat in advance. Be careful, because prices are not listed on the seat map itself. Instead, a price will pop-up when you hover over a seat and are also listed to the left of the seat map. To avoid this fee, simply scroll to the bottom of the seat selection page and look for the text that reads "skip seat selection for now". Click on that link and you'll have the chance to choose a seat from what's still available when you check-in starting 24 hours before departure. If you decide to purchase JetBlue's classic "Blue" fare, advanced seat assignments are included.
How to Avoid Seat Fees on Southwest Airlines
Southwest doesn’t assign seats on any of its flights so you won’t ever pay a seat fee, per say, when flying Southwest. However, it does give the option to add EarlyBird automatic check-in for a fee, which would give you an earlier boarding position and a better choice of seat. Alternatively, set an alarm on your phone to check-in exactly 24 hours before your flight and get a decent boarding position for free.
How to Avoid Seat Fees on Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines is very clear and upfront that you’ll be paying a fee to choose a seat. There are prices for each seat on its seat map, but you don’t have to click on any of them. Look for the small print text that says “continue without seats” and click that link to avoid any seat fees. Of course, a pop-up will then appear inducing blatant FOMO (Fear Of Middle Overtone). Just click on the smaller “continue without seats” text again and you can continue without adding any cost to your cheap flight.
Related: Finally! Middle Seats Will Soon Be Larger on Some Airlines
How to Avoid Seat Fees on Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country is also very upfront with its fees on the seat map. All seats will have a price listed, but it isn’t very clear on this page that you don’t actually need to choose a seat. To avoid a fee, just scroll to the bottom of the page (without clicking on a seat) and click the orange “continue” button. A pop-up will appear saying that your seat selection is not complete. Simply click on the white “continue without all seats” button to finish booking without adding any extra fees.
How to Avoid Seat Fees on United Airlines
United’s Basic Economy fare is the most restrictive of the U.S. legacy carriers, but it does allow advanced seat assignments — for a fee. Since prices are not listed on the seat map until you hover over or select a seat, it can be pretty easy to whisk through this step and add fees to your booking that you did not wish to add. To avoid any extra fees, just click on the grey “Continue to payment” button without choosing any seats. Free seat assignments will be given after check-in. Of course, if you purchase a standard Economy ticket, you’ll be able to choose standard seats for free during booking.
Related: A New Look at Basic Economy for Transatlantic International Travel
There’s a Good Chance You Can Sit Together Without Paying a Fee
Choosing to leave seat assignments up to chance is more nerve-racking when you’re traveling with family and friends and want to sit next to each other. While it’s never guaranteed you’ll get seats together, don’t assume that a free seat assignment at check-in will doom you to be separated in middle seats throughout the cabin. Sure, it could happen, but in my experience, and hearing from several others, couples and families are usually still seated together when seats are assigned by the airline for free.
For better odds, I would recommend checking in as early as possible. And if you don’t end up sitting next to your travel companion, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll still get to your destination at the same time and might even enjoy the time to yourself in-flight.
Of course, traveling with small children is a different story and many parents would like to ensure that they will be sitting next to minor children onboard. The Families Flying Together Act calls for any child under the age of 13 to be seated with parents or guardians for no extra charge, but this doesn’t seem to be a concrete law.
To ensure small children are seated next to an adult, the Department of Transportation suggests contacting the airline directly after booking and discussing your situation. Arrive at the airport early and work with the agents to accommodate your family. Airline agents will do everything possible to seat young children next to a family member.
Related: JAL's Seat Map Feature Helps You Avoid Crying Babies on Flights
Book Your Ticket at the Airport
The internet has made booking flights extremely convenient and some airlines have decided to charge a fee for that convenience. I recently booked flights on Frontier and Spirit for a friend and I, in person, at the airport in order to save each airline’s hefty online booking fee. To my surprise, we were also assigned seats next to each other for free at the time of booking. I assumed our seats would be randomly assigned at check-in and never asked for specific seats. But, sure enough, we were given adjacent seats on both flights and even got Frontier’s extra legroom seats assigned for free.
This is not a given, but if you are courteous and friendly with the agent when booking a flight at the airport, you may just find yourself getting free seat assignments in advance. I haven’t tried this with any legacy carriers, but since a human agent has the ability to override the system, you’ll probably have a better chance of getting seats assigned next to each other for free when booking at the airport. I wouldn’t assume that this will happen, but if it’s convenient for you to book at the airport, it’s worth a shot.
Related: How to Avoid Online Booking Fees on Airline Tickets
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