Best Tip In All Of Travel? Book Yourself A Cheap Second Seat For Extra Room

One of the best tips in travel is to why yourself a second seat when you’re flying coach. Each of the major airlines has a procedure to let you do this, and it can be a great value when fares are cheap. Do it yourself first class, or at least it can be extra room at a value price (and you’re not getting a great meal if you were flying real first class anyway).

The process to do this is different with every airline, but oddly it’s not something U.S. airlines advertise. Some international carriers will sell you almost as many extra seats as you want, online as part of the booking process. That makes sense, it’s extra revenue. China Southern (which is part-owned by American Airlines) has sold extra coach seats at the airport the way some airlines pitch upgrades at check-in.

American Airlines, though, did make it a little bit easier by introducing the ability to pay for an extra seat using trip credits.

JetBlue, though, has made it easiest – letting you just reserve two seats when you’re booking your ticket and offering a check box to say that both seats are for you. That’s much easier than the manual phone process most airlines have, that not every agent may be familiar with.

Southwest Airlines probably has the most customer-friendly extra seat policy for passengers of size – they get the money back for the extra seat if the flight isn’t full. Anyone else can easily do ‘extra seat’ on a do-it-yourself basis when the flight isn’t full. Some people put crumpled up tissues on the seat next to them… Although middle seat blocking is perhaps the one elite benefit that would be low cost for airlines to provide that they are ignoring.

I much prefer the ability to pay for that extra seat if it’s easy. So kudos to JetBlue for making it easy.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. American used to offer “we leave the seat next to you open in coach until the flight is otherwise filled to capacity” to Executive Platinum customers. I’m not sure when that ended (or if that has ended). It was excellent, in particular as a reason to book the “3-seat” side on an MD-80.

  2. No wonder why when flights say “sold out” but there’s still a dozen seats open. Kinda selfish if you ask me.

  3. I know a UA flight is sold out when passenger gets on and sits next to me (a UA 1K/1MM) because I believe the airline still does try to “leave the seat next to me open in coach until the flight is otherwise filled to capacity”…

  4. AA makes buying a second set difficult and does not honor it…had to call to be able to book it and when I checked the seats the day before the flight, they had put some on in my second seat…extremely irritating…I then had to call again, be put on hold for 20 minutes and then was told could not keep my premium economy row and was moved 15 rows back with my second seat. A good idea in theory but , based on my very negative experience, I vowed never again…good AA trick to incentivize customers to book First Class.

  5. Yeah, blocked middle seat is still around with some airlines; it’s just not mentioned anywhere. I’ve seen it on AF when putting my partner on the same flight: somehow, I get a middle seat shadow that follows me around the cabin.
    Of course, a Euro-style, “charge more for sitting in the front seats of short haul economy, and give them to elites as a benefit” has the same effect, since few people are going to pay ten bucks extra to sit in a middle seat.

  6. The poor man’s solution is to book window and aisle seats in economy plus aka extra legroom seats (we do this for my family as my kids prefer windows). Typically there are not many takers who will pay extra $$ for a middle seat and these often go out empty if the plane is not sold out.

  7. It’s a niche thing, hardly the “best tip in all of travel.” Doesn’t it really keep someone else from having a chance to fly?

  8. This is technically not allowed on AA. If the named ticketed customer does not board, the seat can be given to a standby pax or a non-rev. It would be treated the same as a no show. You cannot double book yourself on the same flight either.

  9. Wonder how this works for “passengers of size,” as you delicately put it. I saw an AA customer easily >400 lbs denied check-in because there simply wasn’t room/weight for him on the small plane.
    Also, do you get the bag allocations for a second seat? Considering costs for a third checked bag often reach $100, I could see cases where someone like a camera crew would be better off buying extra tickets than extra bags.

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