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Seat Assignments – A New Revenue Generator
I flew US Airways back from Hawaii on Wednesday and noticed a disturbing trend. Well actually, I began noticing it well before Wednesday and you probably have too. In an effort to generate revenue from seat assignments, airlines are opening up an absurdly low number of seats for “free assignment” ahead of time.
Since I (have/had) elite status with US Airways, I was able to book myself into an exit row ahead of time on my flight from Hawaii, but I happened to be at the ticketing desk in Lihue for about an hour trying to work on a voucher issue (more on that later). During that time I watched about one hundred people check-in for their flight.
Splitting Up People on the Same Booking?
More than a few people who were booked on the same itinerary were given middle seats away from each other. This is because US Airways tries to sell seat upgrades and makes it difficult to select decent seats ahead of time. I lost count of how many times the check-in agent said, “Well you can get a Choice Seat for $99.” Crazy!
While there isn’t much that non-elites can do to get a better seat assignment ahead of time, I do have a few suggestions. Please don’t pay $99 just to get a seat that you should have been assigned ahead of time. (By the way more than a few people did pay!)
Airline Seat Assignment Tips:
- Check your reservation often – I have found that airlines will open up new seats periodically. I recommend checking your reservation every week or so to see if any better seats have opened up. On a recent flight my wife was flying alone and I was only able to get her a middle seat when booking the ticket. I then checked back two days later and a single window seat had opened up. Not perfect, but better.
- Ask nicely when checking in – Some airlines allow the check-in agents to give you better seats. (Or better seats may have opened up since you last checked.) In general check-in agents can’t give you premium seats, but it can’t hurt to ask nicely.
- Go to a lounge – If you have access to a particular airline’s lounge through a credit card or other means, it never hurts to ask in a lounge. These agents are generally more knowledgeable and will help if they can.
- Ask at the gate – Every airline has a cut off point where they stop charging for preferred seats. For example, US Airways (and American I believe) stop charging one hour before the flight. Once that time has passed, all of those previously unpurchased seats should be available for “free assignment”.
- Ask the flight attendants – Many times those “premium” seats are the last to fill up. If some of them go empty, it never hurts to ask a flight attendant if it is ok to move once boarding has finished.
These tricks even work on carriers like Frontier and Spirit, although they generally won’t give you exit rows at all. Of course, you can always fly on Southwest and deal with their “unique” boarding process. I personally don’t like it, but I know some of you do.
I generally don’t worry about seat assignments when flying without elite status since I am 98% successful getting a decent seat. Normally I am able to secure an exit row or at the very least an aisle where I can stretch my legs.
Did I miss anything? Do you have any suggestions? Let me know in the comments.
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