10 ways to get a better airplane seat
1. Don’t fall for the “only-premium-economy-seats-are-available” ploy.
So you booked a fare on American, Delta, United, or some other airline that has economy as well as “premium” economy seating, and when you go to choose a seat the website is telling you that only the more expensive premium economy seats are available. This doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually get a seat assignment or a seat (if you get involuntarily bumped, that’s another story, but it rarely happens). Don’t cough up the extra money for a premium seat. If in fact all the “cheap” seats are taken, you’ll get a premium economy seat when you check in. You can also try calling the airline directly to see if they’ll give you a seat assignment.
2. Watch for (and ask for) cheap last-minute upgrades to business and first class.
The best seats on the plane, clearly, are in business and/or first class, but they sometimes cost many times what an economy seat goes for. For example, I frequently fly the Los Angeles- New York route, where you can still (amazingly) find seats for $129 each way in coach, but business class costs $2,200 or more. However, I’ve been offered last-minute upgrades (when checking in online at home, at the airport kiosk, or even at the gate) for as little as $250 on top of the $129 fare, a huge savings. If you’re not offered a discounted upgrade, it doesn’t hurt to ask when you check in.
3. Don’t assume that business and first-class fares cost 10 times the economy-class price.
They don’t always. There are often non-refundable business and first-class fares going for relatively little more than economy and often for the same price as refundable coach fares. Recently I flew from New York JFK to Boston in first class on American for $140 each way when economy class (or cattle class) on the Delta Shuttle was charging $400 from LaGuardia. I flew L.A. to Ft. Lauderdale on a connection through Atlanta on Delta for $349 one-way in first class, not a huge premium over the economy class fare, which is sometimes $200 each way on that route. Both these deals were non-refundable, but still.
You can see seat maps for almost all airlines and aircraft types here. All seats are not created equal, and Seat Guru will tell you which plane types, airlines, and seats might have more legroom or be otherwise more desirable.