Six ways to get the best coach seat on an airplane

Ooh the dreaded middle seat. You aren’t the only who hates getting stuck in between two strangers. When checking in for my flight the other day I used some tricks to get the best possible coach seat and since I’ve never divulged these tricks in a single post, here’s how you can get a mini upgrade. Just don’t use them on a flight that I’m on.

1. Get elite status. Acquiring elite status is by far the easiest way to secure the best possible coach seat(s). That’s because most airlines only allow their frequent fliers to sit in the highly sought after rows. Attaining elite status is not that difficult especially for business travelers. Usually you just need to fly 25,000 actual air miles in a calendar year on one particular airline or its partners.

Tip: To maximize elite status stick to one airline and its partners. Be sure not to throw out your boarding passes until the miles have posted.

2. Keep checking. Even if you are a frequent flier and you book a ticket last-minute (like I usually do) chances are that the golden seats will be gone. But don’t fret because the good seats will still open up – I can almost guarantee it. The trick is just to keep checking your reservation and seat chart every hour or so because the best seats are usually being reserved by frequent fliers and they will either be upgraded to business class or one of them will cancel.

I usually begin checking a few days before departure until I get the seat I want. For example, I was able to get an exit row window seat a few days before this flight but I prefer an aisle. I know beggars can’t be choosers but instead of printing my boarding pass 24 hours in advance I waited until just a few hours because once you check-in you can’t change your seat until you get to the airport and I had a feeling the aisle might open up. And you know what – it did and that’s where I’m writing this post to you from now. How do you like them apples?!

3. Set an alert. If you don’t have time to keep checking your reservation then set a seat alert with ExpertFlyer.com. They don’t charge for a single seat alert but if you want more at once, you can buy more Seat Alerts for only 99 cents each or sign up for a Basic or Premium account, which starts at $4.99 per month.

4. Pay Extra. Most airlines will allow you to upgrade your coach seat. Just make sure you are getting something for your money like more legroom because some airlines (ahem, American) charge just to be towards the front of the cabin with no extra anything. Don’t be fooled.

5. Be friendly. One of the best ways to get a great coach seat for free is to be super friendly to the gate agents (I usually bring them a box of chocolates) and kindly request if they upgrade any of the frequent fliers to give you their plush coach seat (they are usually booked in the exit row or bulkhead).

6. Use Seat Guru/Seat Expert. To find out which seats are the best on a particular aircraft go to SeatGuru.com or SeatExpert.com. They highlight in green which ones are the best seats and list exactly how much legroom and pitch each one has. They also inform you if there are power ports or personal TVs. Keep in mind airlines can change aircraft types at the last minute so there are no guarantees.

As you can see it sometimes does take time to get the best seat on the plane but having extra space or legroom can make or break your trip. Let me know in the comments below if these tips helped or if you have any tricks up your sleeve that I missed.

Comments

  1. Esther bowe says:

    These are all GREAT tips and I’ve used almost all of them and they do work!! Gate agents have alot of power when it comes to changing seats around.

  2. Great stuff, Johnny. Going to see if I can make these work on my way to Toronto. ; ) — Spud

  3. This may sound stupid, but exactly how do you gift the chocolates to the gate agents without feeling like you are offering a bribe? Is it awkward?

    • It’s not stupid. Best is to say something like this: I’ve been reading Johnny Jet’s Travel Newsletter and he says the best way to get on the gate agents good side is to be genuinely nice and bring them a box of chocolates. So here you go…

      • Thanks — I’m going to try that!

        • In Hawaii, it’s common practice to bring “omiyage” and hand them to a flight attendant after you sit down. Omiyage are usually small gift of candy or snacks from the place you’re travelling to or from. They really do appreciate and will show even more aloha when the food/drinks carts comes around. After talking to a few of my flight attendants friends, I discovered it’s a general practice in most airlines too.

          I think it’s an excellent idea to provide an “omiyage” for the gate agents. I’m definitely doing this next time.

          BTW: Excellent site! Thank you for the great info. I’m glad I found you on:
          http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2012/08/30/how-to-get-cheapest-price-on-airfare/

          Aloha

  4. Jerry Mandel says:

    When you book a flight on AA, their website will usually show very little availability of seats. They open all seats within 24 hours of the flights.

  5. I like to go to trade shows and speak with airline reps, especially for some of the start-ups like XL Airways France. Get to know the chief of customer relations and you might score that great seat. It’s a lot of work, but worth it for long-haul flights.

  6. marlene shyer says:

    J,

    I finally read the best six ways to improve your coach seat and would like to add a seventh:

    Dress up!
    Dress up!
    The agent has occasionally actually upgraded me only because I look good compared to passengers in flipflops, muscle shirts and short-
    shorts

  7. Johnny, all good ideas. I especially endorse the most-favored-airline status. Without my knowledge but because I am a second-tier (out of four) frequent flyer with Delta, the airline entered me into the TSA PRE (as in pre-screened) program. For the past few flights I have been whisked through security without taking off belt or shoes or even hauling the laptop out of the backpack.

  8. Hey, I’m a travel writer/frequent coach flier and all for trying any of these tricks. I have used most of them or variants thereof successfully. Another tip — when travelling with another person in coach, I always book us the aisle and the window seat in the same row. Unless the flight is packed, the middle seat usually remains open, since no one wants to sit between two strangers. If it does get filled, one of us might offer to swap with that person, but not always!

    Meanwhile, Johnny, can you explain this term? “…kindly request if they upgrade any of the frequent fliers to give you their plush coach seat (they are usually booked in the exit row or bulkhead).” What’s “the plush coach seat” if not in the exit row or bulkhead, which are booked?

    Cheers,
    Gillian Kendall
    http://www.gilliankendall.org

    Read more: http://www.johnnyjet.com/2012/09/six-ways-to-get-the-best-coach-seat-on-an-airplane/#ixzz276ynKP5E

  9. Gregory Gibson says:

    The Six Ways are all great!
    I’d like to add the importance of KEEPING your best coach seat. Many families go out of their way and book tickets months in advance to ensure they all have seats next to each other, only to be split apart a few weeks before departure due to an aircraft or schedule change.
    If you receive ANY notification from the airline, that there has been any kind of change (even if the only change was the flight number or the time changed by five minutes), be sure to double check your seat assignment(s)!

    • Elaina Morey says:

      Excellent point! We book our flights way in advance and have been split up on the last two. I watch seat assignments Ike a hawk now!

  10. Wow! Please help me get some of these deals. I travel international twice a year to feed children, but I have never received anything free.

  11. Wow, I would have never thought of some of these. I don’t travel alone often, so we can usually ask someone to switch seats with one of us, not the most crafty way to go about it, but it works most times. But I’ll have to try some of these, thanks Johnny

  12. Do you really mean it with a box of chocolates to the gate agents? :)

  13. I love these tips and will share them!

    We work so hard to try to secure the best seats for our clients. Because we’re usually booking vacations with two or more people, it can be a gamble to wait until the last minute to get seats together, so we suggest that groups and families, even couples, try to book a few months in advance to get optimal seating.

    And gifts for desk clerks and flight attendants? BRILLIANT?we travel with a bag of individually wrapped high end chocolates so we can distribute them as needed!

  14. What is the Android Seat app, you spoke of Saturday on your Leo Laporte Tech guy segment?

  15. Many thanks for your tips. I found you on http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.fr/2013/04/misc-carole-terwilliger-meyers-is.html.
    Have a nice day.

  16. Great travel tips – well worth reading even for the 100,000 mile a year traveler. Getting elite status is my #1 recommendation if at all possible. It’s not that hard if you acquire certain airlines’ affinity cards. When flying on an airline with no status: (1) Some airlines sell premium extra-space coach seats at check-in. If you have to open your laptop it may be worth the $20-50. (2) Get the airline’s mobile app and (as Johnny says) check for seats very frequently in the few days prior to the flight (any maybe twice a day for the weeks before that). You can usually change your seat inside the mobile app. (3) Some airlines (I fly United) allow seat changes from computer or mobile app even after checking in. (4) Learn how to use SeatGuru – even when aircraft changes it’s very often to the same model/same seat config. If you fly enough you will come to know all sorts of things SeatGuru may not tell you. Even first class has better and worse seats. Trade stories with frequent travelers.
    Getting thru the airport: (5) If you fly more than a couple times a year it may be worth it to get TSA precheck even if you have to pay for it – or FlyClear if you frequently use airports they serve). Since I fly out of SFO, it’s well worth it to me to have both Clear and TSA Precheck because the TSA line is getting congested as they enroll more of the flying public.
    Thanks again Johnny! Found you on Leo Laporte’s Tech Guy podcast.

  17. I just did it, I got 11F window seat! When I originally booked 3 weeks ago, the few available seats are all aisle seats so I just decided I’ll just be at the mercy of the gate attendant when I get to the airport. SO happy I opened your email during a break at the office. Thank you!!!!!

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