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How to choose an airline seat, and why you might not want to pay extra for it

Posted at 9:57 PM, Mar 02, 2022

The options to purchase various types of seats, or pay to sit in various parts of the plane, which are considered more comfortable, seem to increase more and more as the travel industry evolves to try and make more profits. But, are you making the best choice when paying to choose a seat after purchasing a ticket on a flight?

Turn to an app for help

SeatGuru, a website founded in 2001, has been helping travelers understand the layout of various types of commercial jets and how to know if the seat you're picking is either too close to the bathrooms and galley, or maybe doesn't recline so that you're not so surprised when you board.

It has evolved into a great resource for travelers who want to be sure they're sitting in the most comfortable spot they can be in, for those hours-long flights. SeatGuru can be a great tool to use before you purchase, to decide if the seat is really worth your money, or if there are other cost-free seat selection options on your flight.

Weigh your options, is paying to choose worth it?

Most airlines offer class options like Premium economy, Economy and Basic economy or Economy preferred. When selecting a class, many travelers may have noticed where airline websites and apps show a prompt asking if the passenger would like to upgrade, at a cost. As Nerd Wallet notes, some airlines like Delta have appeared to wrap this cost into the seat selection cost.

Experts say that if you're not completely sure about your travel plans, upgrading from basic economy to another class could offer you more options if you want to change or cancel your flight, so check on those details as part of your decision to pay to select a seat.

Upgrading to economy preferred could get you a guaranteed window or aisle seat, as for many travelers having to sit in the middle seat could be daunting. And if you have doubts, don't upgrade as fees can add up. If you don't have a strong preference, you could try showing up early for your flight and speaking with the gate agent about switching your seat to give that a try.

Think harder about paying if an airline is charging a fee for all selections in a class

For many, this is a personal decision, but for some airlines that charge to select a seat, even the seats considered to be bad choices, some advise skipping this step entirely. United's basic economy fare asks all passengers in that class to pay a fee to select any of the available seats. If a traveler doesn't have a strong preference and is willing to let the airline choose a seat for them, they can skip this step entirely and will still be assigned a seat upon check-in,according to Nerd Wallet.

If you're traveling with someone and want to sit together, you may want to pay the fee so you're guaranteed to sit together, but for short flights, many may want to save the money and allow the airline to choose.

Airlines with more seat selection fees

Paying less to fly is often subsidized by the fees that passengers pay for comfort. As Airfare Watch notes, carriers like Alaska Airlines and Allegiant often charge to select a seat so they can offer more low fares.
The American Airlines Basic Economy fares don't allow passengers to select a seat for their domestic flights, or short-haul international flights. Passengers on these flights may want to skip the seat selection step during the booking process and take the chance that they might get lucky and the airline will assign a good seat upon check-in.