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To travel farther, longer and more often… I fly economy.
However, occasionally, I've had a taste of the good life.
Many years ago I flew first class to Australia. It was a business trip and that's what they booked for me. It was amazing. Last month I had the opportunity to fly Premium Economy to Hong Kong thanks to Cathay Pacific. They wanted me to experience their Premium Economy class and it was significantly more comfortable than economy class. And it had lots of upgrades like much better headphones, a kit bag and great food.
It all got me thinking – a lot has changed. The airline industry companies are adjusting their seat options and pricing all the time. And each airline and scheduled flight has different seat options as well.
So the question: how do you get the best seat on the plane according to your needs and budget?
The Seat Options
From your perspective, the consumer's perspective, you have many options. Here's the list of seat classes. Not all airlines and every flight on all airlines have all the options. But these your basic seat options.
- First Class – The best of the best.
- Business – Much larger seats and pitch, better service and food than Economy Class.
- Premium Economy – Also known by such names as Club Economy and Legroom Plus, Premium Economy offers larger seats and pitch (but not as large as business class) and better meals, entertainment, amenities than Economy. Some, like Cathay Pacific, offer noise-cancelling headphones which I found fantastic.
- Economy Plus – Same seats and service as Economy but in a separate section with a bit of extra legroom.
- Economy – Your basic seat and your basic service. Typically, long haul has food and short haul nothing.
- Premium seats in economy class – these are seats for which you pay extra. But there are ways that you can sometimes get them without paying the free. Read on for how.
- Budget Economy – Some airlines have added even more seats to some of their fleet so that they can offer Budget Economy or “Choice Economy”. In 2017 Airbus will roll out planes that have 11 seats across instead of 10.
Steps for Getting the Best Seat on the Plane
Getting a good seat in the more expensive classes is not that difficult. So, for this article, we're going to assume that you are flying economy. The first step in getting the best seat on the plane within your budget is to decide what makes for the best seat for you. Set your priorities.
- Ability to sleep – you may want a window seat (to lean against the wall) over the wing (where there is less turbulence) as both will make it easier to sleep
- Fast exit from the plane – you'll likely want an aisle seat near the front on the left side of the plane.
- More leg room – you may want an Exit Row seat though these are sometimes considered premium seats.
- Space for carry-on bags – you may want the back of the plane. Since planes are typically boarded back to front, you will have more options for storage.
Strategy 1 – Book your flight based on the aircraft
Some planes are definitely more comfortable than others. Here's one way to get the best seat on the place based on price and comfort:
- Choose a booking engine that gives you details on the aircraft scheduled for the flight. On some it's easy to find on others you have to dig or the information is not available at all.
- Do a search on your destination and take note of the best priced options.
- Take note of the aircraft used in your top choices.
- Go to SeatGuru to see what the seats are like on your choices. Take note of how many seats are in premium economy, business and first class. The larger they are the greater chance of being bumped up. (See strategy 2)
- Book your flight based on the best-fare/best-seat combination.
You may find that paying a few dollars more makes a big difference in your comfort based on the plane you will actually be in. You can get to know the economy seat specs of the fleet that your favorite airline runs here. You may even choose a new favorite airline with this information.
Strategy 2 – Get a really good seat on the flight you've already booked
If, for some reason, you've already booked your flight, there are a few ways to get the best seat available.
- Find out what aircraft you'll be on and go to SeatGuru and find out what the seats are like. Consider how long the flight is and decide whether it's worth paying for an upgrade.
- Go to the Gate Agent and ask nicely whether there is a possibility of a free upgrade.
- For a more complicated approach but one that may yield better results read: Get the Good Seat on the Plane Without Paying Up
And By the Way, Solo Travelers Benefit by Flying Solo
From the consumer's perspective there are just a few classes on any flight. First, business, economy…
But from the airline's perspective, there are many categories within each class. These are called fare basis codes.
Because of these codes, solo travelers actually benefit by flying alone. If you set up a search alert for certain destination, you will have a better chance of getting a better seat and deal if you are looking for just one ticket. If you are looking for two, the system will give you seats in the best fare basis code that has two seats available. But if there is only one seat left in the best, they will bump both travelers to next best code. Under this system, the solo traveler always gets the best seat/price available within the class they've requested.