“Genius Hack” Gives You Access To Open Seats Next To You, “Poor Man’s First Class”

One man says he secures “poor man’s first class” – an entire row of coach seats to himself – using a “genius hack.” But when it works, it’s fraud. It frequently fails. But if you follow real advice you accomplish the same thing, guaranteed, at a reasonable cost. Isn’t that much better than getting your travel tips from Instagram?

  • He buys extra refundable tickets for his flights, using fictitious passenger names, and assigns them seats next to his.

  • Then he cancels these reservations at the last minute, right before the flight, so that they are empty and it doesn’t cost him anything.

This is a bad idea.

Before this idea showed up on Instagram, it was making the rounds on TikTok. But here’s what you should know about this idea, that they don’t tell you in the video.

  1. You can actually book more than one seat for yourself, legitimately. “Poor man’s first class” would be buying 3 seats in a row for yourself, cheap, and major airlines generally let you do this but you’ll need to call.

  2. Cancelling tickets at the last minute doesn’t actually get you these empty seats. Passengers on standby will get them, certainly on a full flight. Other passengers may move into these seats also.

  3. It’s against airline rules, and fraud. You may have your frequent flyer account closed, and could even be banned from travel on the airline.

Buying seats that you do not intend to fly, to keep other people from buying them, creates actual harm to the airline (it prevents them from earning revenue). They won’t sit idly by. Consequences could be even greater.

This is another form of an idea that passengers used to do with upgrades years ago, until airlines caught on and cracked down. Customers would book refundable first class tickets to keep some seats in the cabin from being sold. Cancel at the last minute, then there are upgrade seats open. If you have the highest status, those seats go to you.

You can imagine airlines look unfavorably on customers who prevent them from selling their most valuable product, in order to obtain it for free. It’s an easy way to get banned, and loss of an elite frequent flyer account that gets upgrades is an even bigger loss. It’s also not too tough to figure out when this happens semi-regularly.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. If you buy the seats that stay empty, how is the airline losing revenue? You bought them, they were paid for, by you, they made money. They save on weight since no one is in those seats. I can understand the argument if you cancel them, but if you actually paid for them, the airline makes money

  2. So a passenger buys two seats, lets say exit row D & E, how does the passenger stop the gate from putting a standby or another passenger self assigning themselves to the seat, even though the empty seat was paid for? Example: AUS-FRA $1209 RT Y (times 2 =$2418) AUS-FRA $6511 RT J

  3. How stupid.
    Jeff FandL, he cancels and refunds the tickets. So no revenue. Restraint of trade. Airlines can and will sue and will win especially if they can show a pattern.
    These days all flights fo our full and always a standby list of revenue and no revenue pax. Just dumb.
    Play stupid games win stupid prizes.

  4. @jef fandl
    Pls read again, they cancel those seats and get refund close to the time of the flight

  5. 1) the guy is clearly a moron and a legend in his own mind for posting this “hack”
    2) even canceling at the last minute w/jam packed flights there is probably already a waitlist so he is sitting w/ppl anyway even w/a refund. No one waitlisted, the airline loses precious revenue, which I doubt they are going to stand for .
    3) it’s fraud

  6. Those empty seats can go to standby passengers or non revs. I’m curious where this guy flies to. Is it a 2 hr flight from jfk to clt or 15 hr flight from doh to lax ?

    Why do non frequent fliers fear not having the best seat on the plane ? Too many tik tok videos about the prefect life.

  7. It also drives up the price for everyone buying after him since revenue management systems will think demand is higher than it actually is.

  8. Buying seats you don’t intend to keep: Bad customer! Bad!!

    Bumping passengers out of seats they purchased, to accommodate staff: good business practice

    Selling seats you don’t have (airlines overselling seats): good business practice

    Etc etc…

  9. What is it with trying to game EVERYTHING. You buy a ticket, you get what’s included in the ticket. Someone how people feel cheated if they don’t gain one ounce of advantage? Do you take the batteries from the TV remote in the hotel room??

    They are a private business and decide to ban you for just being annoying. At a restaurant, people might expect they do nit share a table but if the restaurant really wanted you to, they can make you share your table or LEAVE …

    If you are that unhappy with the deal, drive or pay for an upgrade …

  10. This is dishonest but the airlines have engendered hostility and resentment by mistreating customers for years.

  11. “Genius” and “Hack” are the two most overused and least understood word on the internet.

  12. Tell me you’ve never heard of the standby list, without telling me you’ve never heard of the standby list.

  13. Buying two bargain-price seats in cattle class as a way of being able to survive comfortably on a flight, especially a long one, sounds like a good solution for all concerned as long as the passenger does pay for both. Does anyone know if airlines allow this? (Or would it help to say “one is for my cello” and then “forget” the imaginary cello when boarding?

  14. As someone who got caught doing this, I can attest first hand that airlines aren’t messing around when it comes to fictitious bookings.

    This happened over a decade ago; I was 13 yrs old, had just gotten AAdvantage Platinum status through a promo, and thought I’d concocted a brilliant plan to book up the majority of the first class cabin on my ORD-SFO flight in order to secure a complimentary upgrade at the gate. I used AA’s complimentary 24-hr Hold feature and would simply create a new booking each day leading up to the flight, and then allow them to expire (I could do this without having to use a credit card, as I didn’t have one at the time).

    Well, a day before the flight, when I went to check-in, my AA account was locked. I called AA support and they said Corporate Security had taken control of the account.

    I received a call from Corp Security later that day (I was in chorus class) and they informed me that I was under investigation for fraud and that my actions had resulted in over $30k of lost potential revenue for AA (given that it was ~6 seats for one domestic flight, I’m still a tad uncertain of how they came to that figure, but I digress).

    I received a formal letter from AA a few days later that initiated an investigation into fictitious bookings and threatened potential legal action if I didn’t cooperate. Considering I had used names including “Borat Sagdiyev” and “The Zohan” for my bookings, and made the reservations while logged into my AA account, I didn’t have much ground to stand on.

    After a few week investigation, they ended up terminating my AAdvantage account, rescinding my Platinum status and all the miles I had earned to date (well over 200k). I was able to create a new AAdvantage account 90 days later.

    Long story short, I’d implore anyone considering engaging in this behavior to refrain from doing so. Airlines don’t mess around when it comes to fictitious bookings — they caught me within 72hrs of making them — and frankly, I think they went easier on me once they figured out my age. They made it very clear in their letter that they were prepared to make me pay them for all of the lost revenue as a result of the fictitious bookings.

    So don’t do it — but if you do —don’t use Borat as your passenger 🙂

  15. I would think that this is bad for the airlines but airlines can take back your fully paid for extra seat that you bought for comfort, paying you only the ticket price, and sell it to someone else. Since the situation is asymmetric, I don’t care.

  16. He is nothing more than a thief. Most of these so-called “life hacks” are simple dishonesty generated by simple minds.

  17. As a retired airline agent, I can tell you this–his “hack” is nonsense.

    If we have an oversold flight, or a standby list, we’re going to get an on board seat count before we close the door. Butts will be in those seats before we leave.

    This idiot is messing with inventory control, leading the algorithm to calculate a higher no show rate than really exists. This leads to further overlooking, which leads to more denied boarding.

    You can buy two cheaper seats for yourself. Just stop with the idiotic games.

  18. @Mark. There are more kids with high tier status than you think. Most are kids that shuffle between high income parents several times each year. With promos and status matches, it’s not unusual to come across them.

  19. Bad move. Cancelling these tickets will only be given to standby passengers especially if the flight is full. And it usually is.

  20. I’ve contemplated buying 6 lowest discounted cost economy seats in two consecutive rows and filling the extra 5 seats with human torso sized cases labeled “fragile musical/ scientific/ medical instrument” You strap the packages in very tight and the seats are fully paid for and occupied. Now you have lots of arm room. You can fully recline freely.
    Of course the mathematics compared to business or first class has to work out..

  21. This wouldn’t even work on Air France. I remember traveling to Ireland on Air France. A friend of mine who lived elsewhere was going to meet me in the Paris airport, and we would fly on to Dublin from there. I booked our flights to have overlapping layovers in Paris, and I paid extra to choose two seats together on the Paris-Dublin leg. But when I checked in, they had just randomly changed my seat. Made me incredibly angry. Why in the hell did I pay extra to choose a seat when they could just randomly reassign it?

  22. Screw the airlines, if you can get away with it then do it. Airlines have ruined competition , they bribe politicians to ignore doing anything that the public wants to do to make the system better for the consumer. Then the airlines nickle and dime you, overbook and won’t even give you a bag of pretzels on a 6 hr. Flight

    The middle class has been “hacked” by government and business since the 70’s. Why should I care about them? Ant since when do ethics and morality matter to any business? Examples, the 737 max Ford Pinto, and the wall street crash of 2008.

  23. I know people are generally just stupid, but is it possible in the age of social media he’s just posting this for clicks and not actually doing it?

  24. @Rod, I empathize with the sentiment, but the problem is that no, you can’t get away with it. The airline will catch you and ban you, or sue you, because they can. And a lawsuit from an a major corporation gets expensive to defend real quick. Whether the airlines deserve it or not, it’s still fraud. Also, he’s posting it for a bunch of people who don’t know better and are going to follow his advice, thinking it’s perfectly fine. And those people will get banned too.

  25. The retired airline agent, Linda, is exactly right. Haven’t you who fly noticed when the airlines call out names that haven’t checked in yet? It’s actually a thing that a warm body has to show up to claim each seat or it will be considered a no-show and made available to stand-by/waitlisted hopefuls. End of story. Or at least end of chapter!

  26. “Genius”?!? Hardly. Since when is grand theft “genius”? It’s not to be admired or praised. It screws the rest of us. And airlines plant cookies & keep profiles- and TSA pre screens passenger names for security, days out. That thief’s searches for that airline & others will likely become affected. Not genius- stupid.

  27. Bit slow to the game here. This was reported months ago in media in Europe (I think?) and some other FF blogs. And as you point out is pointless anyway when there’s so many non revs on a lot of flights. 24 on the flight I was on this week so every seat (including the open I did have next to me) was gone anyway. Only way to secure it is you buy it and not cancel

  28. This is how entitled Americans have become. Not caring enough about fellow passengers trying to make a last minute funeral. Military trying to get home to loved ones after a deployment. Sad what we have become.

  29. I have done this a few times. I would not risk it now that I am older and have status. It definitely does not work that well. Maybe less than 50% in my experience. I bet now it is even less unless you are an extremely unpopular route. Those standby lists are huge now. If I want a poor mans first class now – I simply book two seats in economy if it ends up cheaper than business class or wait for an upgrade offer.

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