Paying Extra for a Flight for the Convenience of a Better Seat

I’ll be visiting family for Christmas, and I just bought my plane tickets online. I know that I should have bought them earlier, but I only had to pay for my return flight because I was able to buy my departure ticket using points I saved.

I have some self-imposed rules when choosing flights:

1) Avoid red-eyes if possible because of my inability to sleep for longer than 10 minutes at a time on planes.

2) When flying from the East Coast to the West Coast (where my hometown is), try to choose a flight that will land before 9 p.m. (to help with jet lag).

3) Pay the extra money for direct flights—time is money and I’d rather spend an extra $50 to not have to land in another city and wait for a connecting flight.

That’s pretty much it. I pack as light as possible to avoid baggage fees, and avoid spending money at the airport.

When it comes to choosing a seat, I always pick an available aisle seat that’s closest to the front of the plane so I can get up without bothering anyone if I need to, and exit the plane quicker upon landing. I avoid paying additional fees for extra legroom or “premium” seats at nearly all costs. Nearly. Here were my seat selection choices for my return flight:

The no-fee seats were all middle seats in the rear of the plane, and I contemplated taking the one in row 18.

The seats in the front of the plane were early boarding (E), which cost an additional $30, and “main cabin select” (M), which cost and extra $100 and includes extra legroom. There were also first class seats for more than $1,000, which, ha.

Since it’s in my nature to save money (the middle seat isn’t that bad), I normally would have chosen the seat in row 18. But I ended up paying an extra $30 for the early boarding aisle seat in row 6. My reasoning: It’s the holidays, you’re flying across the country—treat yo’self. So I did.


Photo: Glenn Fleishman


31 Comments / Post A Comment

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

Can someone explain to me why early boarding is a privilige I would want to pay extra for? I generally don’t mind flying but I’m not so eager that I want to spend extra time sitting on the plane on the tarmac. What’s the benefit other than having an easier time finding space in the overhead?

ATF (#4,229)

@EvanDeSimone That is the benefit. If you want to avoid checking baggage, it may well be worth your while to board early. That way you know you’ll be able to store your bag directly above your seat.

When seat upgrades were fairly cheap, I used to do that. But now it’s cheaper to check a bag, so I wind up doing that for the most part.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@ATF That’s interesting. I tend to travel with very little so I don’t think i’ve ever had a problem finding space for my carry-on. It honestly didn’t occur to me.

OllyOlly (#669)

@EvanDeSimone I never used to worry about it, but now that many airlines charge for all checked bags people try to haul small villages worth of carry-ons onto the plane. Last summer they had to ask for volunteers to have their luggage tagged and stowed for my flight from LAX to DC.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@OllyOlly That actually happened to me on a flight from LAX to Newark but I don’t believe I was charged. I think it was a Delta flight but you’re still entitled to a free carryon even if they can’t find space for it in the cabin.

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

@EvanDeSimone Um, sitting by and scoffing at the plebes as they board. Duh?

sherlock (#3,599)

@EvanDeSimone You don’t get charged, but it does take extra time to wait for your bag after your flight. If I’ve gone through the trouble of limiting the liquids I bring on a trip precisely to avoid this wait, I get very annoyed if I have to end up checking it anyways. It’s started happening a lot recently, and has definitely affected how aggressive I am about boarding as soon as my group is called.

@EvanDeSimone I don’t think you get charged if that happens, but you have to wait right outside the door of the plane for them to bring your bag out and give it back to you (which is pretty horrible if you have just taken a long flight to a hot climate. They are not very quick about this). Or worse, they make you get it from baggage claim. So in the end I think paying for early boarding is getting you much easier/faster departure. But if you’re checking bags anyway, definitely not worth it.

Liz the Lemur (#3,125)

@EvanDeSimone I sit as close to the front of the plane as I can so that I can get off the plane quickly when it lands. One of my least favorite things for sure is having to wait at the back of the plane while people futz around and put on coats and dawdle while getting off the plane.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@Caitlin with a C This speaks to me

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

@EvanDeSimone That’s exactly why I started it with “EvanDeSimone”.

Also, did I mean proles there? I never know.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@Caitlin with a C Either works in this case.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

@sherlock Agreed on annoyance when one has limited liquids and then still has to wait about! I have gotten myself down to a single small MEC duffle bag for most of my trips that aren’t 6 week business or coming back from my parent’s after Christmas. The hardest part isn’t clothes or shoes or books – it’s liquids.

jmdj (#2,994)

I had the same rules, UNTIL the io9 article on avoiding sickness on a plane made me vow to never sit on the aisle again.

article here:

E$ (#1,636)

@jmdj oh that IS terrifying. Then again, if you get sick on a plane, you really want the aisle for the benefit of all the other passengers!

My wife and I paid for early boarding on Southwest this summer. We had mixed results. I’m 6’7″ and about 275 pounds, so room is an important issue for me. On our flight out from KC to Baltimore, this worked out well–we were able to secure seats in the emergency exit row, where the offset seating allows me the opportunity to stretch out a tiny bit. On our return flight, we were not so fortunate, as all the seating with any possible legroom was taken by average-sized folk. Tall man, not so happy. So it can be a benefit, but with a carrier like SWA, first-come, first-serve still rules the day…

Nibbler (#5,331)

My husband and I almost always splurge on the extra legroom seats now (usually $50-$70 each) because even though it seems like a lot when you buy them, I know that if we don’t, then an hour into the flight, the people in front of us are going to recline their seats, and my husband is going to spend the rest of the flight making exaggerated movements and pained faces to show me how uncomfortable he is, as if it’s my fault that he’s 6’4″ and on a plane. It’s worth $100 to me to have him slightly less grumpy when we get wherever we’re going.

Plus, as Mike’s seating chart attests to, most people don’t splurge for the seats, and the extra $50 often gets you a whole row to yourself on an otherwise sold out flight.

Allison (#4,509)

I fly Southwest pretty exclusively, and will check a bag if I’m going for more than a weekend (free!), so boarding early isn’t a HUGE deal, but I’ll pay the $12.50 so I can just get in line and get on the plane and settle in with my book or start my nap. I also just grab the first aisle seat I see, and can be one of the first off. (also then I don’t have to remember to check in 24 hours ahead of time. I used to be so good at that but have lost the skill)

I did pay an extra $50 each way for my trip to New Zealand coming up in March for the seat I wanted. But $50/12 hours is worth it to me.

I’ve only splurged on extra legroom once. I was traveling for business and happened to have an ankle injury that required me to wear this massive boot which made it really hard to scoot by people if I didn’t have the aisle seat. I also was supposed to take the boot off while we flew (blood and swelling in the ankle on a plane = blood clots if you don’t move it around a bit), so I couldn’t fit anything under the seat in front of me other than the boot. I had been taking a ton of flights with the boot for my work travel, and usually made out fine, but on this one flight I was going to have to sit all the way in the back in a middle seat and my coworker (who was more senior than I) was just like aw fuck it just pay for the extra legroom seat, you need it and I bet the company will pay for it. And they did!

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

I am never so happy to be 5’3″ and 130 pounds as I am when flying. Generally, the person next to me seems pretty happy about it too.

Nibbler (#5,331)

@swirrlygrrl I would be delighted to sit next to you on a plane anytime. I’m quiet and good about sharing the armrest too.

Ellie (#62)

I always fly Southwest and I always sit in the same seat (aisle seat in the very last row). I’m somewhat scared of flying and mildly claustrophobic and it makes me feel better to be close to the open space at the back of the plane, where people won’t stare at you if you get up. I tried sitting in the front row once and it made me anxious being that close to the cockpit. Almost nobody wants to sit in the last row next to the bathroom so I can usually get my seat if I have even just a semi-decent boarding number. The one or two times I had a terrible boarding number I actually asked to get medical boarding so I could be sure to get an aisle spot. I probably wouldn’t do this now but the anxiety used to be a lot worse, so I was glad I did it then.
It is annoying that you get off last, but given I sit in the back literally every time, that’s programmed into my sense of how long it is supposed to take to exit a plane.

jennystockton (#4,656)

@Ellie I don’t always fly Southwest, but my flying anxiety is definitely helped by sitting in an aisle seat. I get up to use the bathroom at least once per hour on a flight (sometimes just to move around, others because the IBS has kicked into high gear). Now that you point it out, some of my best flight experiences have happened when I sat in the last row – it’s easier to catch a flight attendant and ask how much longer the flight will actually be, which is another bonus. I’m going to shoot for the last row aisle from now on!

Ellie (#62)

@jennystockton Yes I highly recommend the last row! I actually have the exact same thing (IBS, and I like to be able to get up to go to the bathroom easily) and I find it reassuring to be closer to the flight attendants so that you can ask for a glass of water or something, too.

E$ (#1,636)

The carryon scrum is the reason I try to sit in the back instead of up in the front. It’s horrible, and this time of year it’s the worst. I practically saw passengers go feral over Thanksgiving because we were taking a small plane that couldn’t fit most roll-aboard suitcases in overhead bins.

Allison (#4,509)

@E$ oh man, one time I saw some teenager put both his bags in the overhead and got really judgey, but didn’t say anything because I am That Person in my soul, but try not to be out loud. Then the pilot was all “My son is on board!” and it was that kid.

But also as someone who tends to only have like, a medium-large timbuk2 messenger bag in the overhead, I get annoyed when people want to move it to 6 rows behind me so someone who has ignored the luggage size rules can fit their bag in.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

@Allison “got really judgey, but didn’t say anything because I am That Person in my soul, but try not to be out loud.” Ha! I like that. I am sometimes that person out loud, like when I told the guy at the grocery store yesterday it was a five items or less line (he had at least 12 in his cart). Not meanly. But it was information.

clo (#4,196)

@E$ This is why I check my bag

clo (#4,196)

I think we bought the same flight? I also booked my cross country virgin america holiday flight today and paid the $30 for the E type seat. :) I hate the middle cause I always have to get up to use the bathroom so I figured $30 was worth it.

Eric18 (#4,486)

I actually got a return flight out of Chicago recently that was half full. I had an entire emergency exit row to myself. This is the new version of Heaven.

pearl (#153)

I got to fly first class for the first time using points this holiday weekend and while service and the extra room was great, I felt extremely self-conscious and like they knew I didn’t belong, going so far as avoiding looking at the boarding economy passengers so as to not stare my guilt in the face. I haven’t abandoned you! This was just the only seat left!

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