Greatest Travel Tip: Buy Yourself a Cheap Extra Seat for More Room – Or Even the Whole Coach Row

American Airlines owns a stake in and has been partnering increasingly closely with China Southern. And China Southern has a new policy to let coach passengers buy extra seats on the cheap.

This is interesting not because they say you can buy more than one seat if you want extra space (ghetto premium economy or business class). The major US airlines let you do this already in fact it’s one of the very best, least well known tricks in travel.

What’s interesting here is just how cheap it is to buy those extra seats when flying China Southern economy. Here’s their pricing table, using Google translate and converting Yuan to US dollars:

Route type Price (USD)
  +1
seats
+2
seats
+3
seats
International long route $98 $180 $255
International short-haul routes
and regional routes (first gear)
$53 $98 $135
International short routes and
regional routes (second gear)
$38 $68 $98

Getting the seat next to you on a long haul flight between China and the US for just $98 strikes me as a huge bargain. Additional seats cost incrementally less, you may want a whole row to yourself to lay down.

I’m surprised that in promoting this the airline seems to be acknowledging how bad it is to fly coach,

Long-haul flight + night flight + economy class for more than 10 hours …

About equal to: butt pain + back pain + neck pain , and wake up asleep… wake up sleep… wake up wake up…

However in the case of China Southern’s “One Passenger, More Seats” offer seats are sold at the airport, if available, rather than booked in advance. (HT: Loyalty Lobby) This way they’re truly generating incremental revenue for the flight. Of course this is not as desirable for passengers. Still if you find yourself flying China Southern coach it’s a no brainer to ask about.

Remember though this isn’t limited to China Southern. You can book an extra seat on Southwest, too, and when the fare is say $53 it seems like it could be well worth doing.

Here are instructions for how to buy and board with an extra seat on United, Delta, American and Southwest and even though basic economy fares don’t support advance seat assignments this usually even works with basic economy.

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. US airlines will sell you an extra seat, but will readily give it away if the fight is overbooked. Even if you do keep the seat, other passengers will try and poach is as they see the seat being available. Not recommended.

  2. Great insight! I am thinking there’s another way to exploit this for Mileage Run purposes. If I am flying on Alaska to the east coast, can I book an extra seat and earn redeemable and status earning miles on both seats?

  3. Found the answer on Alaska’s website: Redeemable miles: Yes, Elite Status Miles: No

    Do I earn frequent flyer miles for the second seat?
    If you are not eligible for a refund of the second seat because your flights departed full, and you are an Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan™ member, you can receive Mileage Plan™ Bonus Miles for the second seat only on flights operated by Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air, PenAir between Anchorage and Dutch Harbor, and SkyWest flight series 3300-3499. The Bonus Miles are equivalent to the mileage you received for each eligible flown segment. You may contact Customer Care at 1-800-654-5669 to request miles once you have completed travel. Please note, these Bonus Miles for the second seat do not count towards Elite Status qualification.

  4. “ghetto” premium economy or business class” – please delete this phrase. It is NOT cool.

  5. Interesting and useful post. Can two award seats be booked on UA or AA, or does the second ticket have to be revenue?

  6. How would it be possible to buy an empty seat next to you when flying Basic Economy? They assign those seats last-minute, and put those people ANYwhere. How could you ensure the empty you sits next to the real-you?

  7. Gary,

    While it’s been commented and discussed above re. Earning redeemable vs. elite miles when booking 2 seats, I’m curious how U.S. airlines handle the issue if a flight is oversold and/or they have stand by passengers. I assume they will come for your open seat before bumping physical passengers. How do they handle compensation? Clearly if you paid for the 2nd one, they would have to refund that…but do they automatically provide compensation for taking away your additional seat? Do you need to request it? Obviously, it’s not as egregious as denying passage for an actual person but if you paid for a 2nd seat (to have more room next to you) and it was taken away, then one deserves something for the inconvenience. Or maybe it’s not an issue and they won’t look to that empty seat? Curious if anyone has experienced this and what was the outcome.

  8. I don’t really see how this works on Southwest, since there are no seat assignments. You choose your seat, put your briefcase next to you, and when someone walks by and tries to sit there, you tell him, “sorry, I bought an extra seat, so you many not sit here.”?

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