How One Man Ensures An Entire Row Of Seats To Himself When Flying

One man says he secures “poor man’s first class” – an entire row of coach seats to himself – with what he claims is a genius hack. It’s fraud, and something you’ll pay the price for if you try it yourself. Don’t be like this TikTok influencer.

What he says he does is buy extra refundable tickets and assigns those passengers to the seats next to him. Then he cancels the seats at the last minute, so that they are empty and it doesn’t cost him anything. This is a bad idea, I’ll explain why.

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Here’s what you should know about this idea.

  1. You can actually book more than one seat for yourself. “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, though, 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, in fact it is 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.

It’s the same concept and you can imagine airlines look unfavorably on preventing them from selling their most valuable product. 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, 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. This stupidity raises the costs for all who fly. I hope they nail this guy and teach him a lesson. It’s dishonest and he should be punished to set an example.

  2. His sad desire for social-media attention obscures the obvious fraud he’s committing.

  3. Agreed, Tommyleo. I never understood why when people do something illegal they have to tell the world about it. That seems to happen all the time, which is why “prison snitches” can often rat out other inmates. Here in Minnesota a bad guy killed somebody in a road rage incident. Shot him, and he might have gotten away with it if he hadn’t done a live Facebook broadcast. Then he waved around a handgun, and it was close enough to the camera so that the police got its serial number too!

  4. I think this kid is too narcissistic and self centered to even realize he is doing anything wrong….

  5. I’d argue that while this is absolutely fraud, it could be construed as the same thing as people grabbing multiple saver level awards when they know they’re only going to use one award. They just cancel the ones they don’t plan on using at the last possible moment and everyone else that needed those saver level awards can just go suck it. The difference between that and the instance cited in this post is simply a matter of degree.

  6. The great American philosopher Charles Barkley once called the Internet a place where fools go to feel important. I think he was right.

  7. Apart from being a stupid attention starved idiot on tiktok, the kid didn’t do anything wrong

    Where does it say it’s illegal to buy and cancel tickets?

  8. What about just buying the two seats and no-show? If the fare is low, could definitely be multitudes cheaper than a first class fare

  9. I agree that this would constitute fraud and that it is wrong. HOWEVER, having said that, would this not be the same thing that airlines do by intentionally overbooking flights? Would that too not constitute fraud in a sense as well?

  10. Airlines have their games. Employees have theirs. Passengers have theirs. I just want to get where I am going in a timely manner without having to study all the secret alleys and deadends of an airline’s policies.

  11. I used to fly trans-pacific regularly in the days before Airlines insisted on cramming passengers into every available seat. I would wait until my ears popped signifying that the outer doors had been closed and then stand up and look for three seats together that were not occupied. I would immediately go there and spend the rest of the flight lying down. Sadly those days are long gone.

  12. Maybe the Airlines could make seats a bit wider and more comfortable for all, then people wouldn’t have to “commit fraud”

  13. Airlines might actually prefer this practice. Since seats flights are oversold into negative space, revenue management has already accounted for no-shows. What is interesting is, if you bought three tickets, and only showed for one, the airline would… Fraudulently, allow pax on standby or oversold capacity to “steal” those seats. Try it. I bet on a full flight your non-refunded extra tickets will, fraudulently, not be honoured.

    Using a refund clause in a contract is not fraud.

    Using it too often may result in the airline choosing not to do future business with that pax, but prior contracts were not fraud. Fraud is a specific term with criminal consequences, and a very specific definition.

    At best, one might argue bad faith. But even then, if you buy a contract and say “I intend to make use of this feature which YOU wrote in the contract” how is this bad faith?

  14. I don’t (and wouldn’t) engage in the behavior described, but I do find this kind of thing fascinating. Why do you say this kind of cheating (buying seats and cancelling last minute) is easy to detect?

    You can buy the seats under different names each time you do this and if you need multiple seats you could buy those under different names as well. You don’t have to prove who you are until you arrive at the airport and you don’t have to use a real person’s name and address when booking.

    In the case of blocking upgrade seating the airline would have to look for passengers who upgrade into any canceled slot. But this happens all the time — I’ve definitely seen the number of first class seats for sale on American flights go up in the day or two before the flight and sometimes I’ve gotten upgraded on those flights. You’d have to see this happen a lot for it to be suspicious and, even then, I bet you’d get a reasonable percentage of false positives.

    In the case of getting an empty row in your original class of service (which, as others have said, isn’t that likely to actually work with current load factors), I guess you could look for all cases in which two people with seats assigned in the same row cancel shortly before the flight and, if you find the same person in the remaining seat multiple times, suspect them of orchestrating it. But a better way to play this scenario would be to fake-book all three seats in a row and put yourself elsewhere in the plane. Then, when you board, take one of the three seats since you’re confident that the row will actually be empty. If you book the three seats under a single reservation and cancel that, it doesn’t even look that odd — a family that wasn’t able to travel.

  15. @Larryin NYC…..those seats would likely be assigned to non revs. An empty row would be first to be used up. I’m guessing he has only done this once or twice and making it sound like he does it all the time. Empty seats are assigned to non revs all the time..To the people saying this isn’t “illegal”, it’s simply immoral. Too many people in this world are out to get what ever they can for themselves with little regard for the consequences to others.

  16. The airlines have been cheating their customers for decades. Anything that gets our own back at them is ok with me. Thanks for the suggestion. How is overbooking flights even legal?

  17. Seeing a TikTok influencer banned from airlines would be priceless and doubtless 90% of your readers would be thrilled to watch the video(s) of rage and fury at being banned.

  18. First to Mr. Bilib, if you want a better seat and coach you better start paying more money for it and quit complaining! Secondly, I’d gladly be the one sitting next to this clown on tick tock because thanks to his moves I would be able to get a seat on an airplane lol

  19. @JohnW: Yes, I recognize why it wouldn’t work. My question was why, in the event it did work, Gary considers it “easy to detect”.

  20. @LarryInNYC, there are a whope multitude of problems with this. 1) An anonymous person who has not crossed the security checkpoints and sitting in a row would really be problematic. Especially if the behavior of that anonymous person outrightly becomes combative or performs a malicious act on the plane.

    2) This will be highly detectable… I won’t go into how but it is detectable and someone would have to go to great lengths to make it undetectable. If they did, I am sure when the act does happen, that person will end up on a federal no fly list, in jail for a long time and a really huge fine.

  21. ThisGuy is correct. Doing this over and over on the same route and/or flight would just solidify the no-show factor and start narrowing its variability. Next thing you know? Airline adds +2 to the cap for the flight.

  22. I wonder how often this actually works.

    (1) Gate agents often change seats for people in the final 45 minutes before departure so his now refunded empty seats are fair game for people to be switched into
    (2) Many airlines often over book so now there’s seats free for those people who might have got bumped
    (3) Misconnected passengers may be on standby and will take the seat
    (4) Some one from a later flight may show up early and want to take an earlier flight
    (5) Failing all that, there are usually plenty of non revs waiting and they’ll be delighted extra seats have opened up

    Totally flawed and he’s probably got himself identified and the airlines will be looking out for him. I won’t even go into TikTok ugh.

  23. “None” is spot on.

    To put this in a perspective that’s public and experienced by many here: If you’ve ever misspelled a name or omitted/messed up a date of birth and haven’t been able to check in or not gotten your PreCheck designation until talking to the airline, you aren’t getting on the plane without seeing someone from the airline.

    Any way you look at it, the seats will be dropped at either check in close or flight close. And won’t work on a connecting flight.

    Airlines with the slightest bit of suspicion (like a refundable ticket for someone repeatedly booked then canceled at boarding time) have a lot of very easy tools. Very easily a carrier can put a requirement to show the credit card used to purchase the ticket as a requirement to check in (and I really doubt anybody is going to win this battle with the credit card companies as they’re usually thrilled when someone acts on suspected fraud on their behalf).

  24. You can do this with a pretty fair chance of success if you wait to book your seat until quite soon before departure, and then choose a seat in a row with no other seats taken. Not guaranteed but quite often if you take the aisle seat the two beside you will remain empty for the flight, and even if someone takes the window seat the middle seat will often remain empty. Downside of course is that you will pay more by booking the seat late in the day, but then if you do wind up with an empty row it might be worth it.

  25. Screw the airlines every chance you get like they screw passengers every chance they get .
    Next , act like Americans and get rid of those yellow belly TSA agents immediately everyone is tired of them and makes Bin laden look like the winner. Stop giving up your rights, Americans. Enough already with this money maker for the government.

  26. Each airline has tariffs registered with the government. Most are similar in scope. I know of one major US carrier that uses “crawlers” within the software and data bases. It looks for irregularities in just about everything that the airline does. This bozo had the stupidity to broadcast his activity. So, I can assure you that the airline(s) will now look for his activity. If what he did violates the tariffs or revenue stream or is just plain “dishonest”, he will be blocked. While they may be not collect damages, they will get even. He won’t be able to book tickets or be outright banned from flying. Don’t anyone thing that the airline(s) can’t “get even”. They can and do!

  27. Win Whitmire,

    Its as simple at my last airline as opening the reservations system and typing two characters followed by his name and up pops 5 years of activity by that name.

    I would venture that airlines, being private enterprises, could on their own ban him pre-emptively and stand on the legal ground that he has publicly advertised that he commits fraud and encourages others to do so, therefore they are limiting possible damages. But I’m not a lawyer. I just play one in small claims court when passengers sue because they claim exactly $5000 was stolen from their checked bag.

  28. I don’t fly nearly as much as I used to, but every flight I do take is full to the point I get my bag checked for free (now THERES a hack you should write about) and every flight has a standby list. I don’t believe for a second that this guy is telling the truth.

  29. I find this discussion, as well as the strong feelings in both directions, to be fascinating.

    There’s a difference between overbooking, as much as we hate it when we are bumped, and the strategies described in these posts. Airlines overbook based on what one hopes are good faith statistical analyses to try to get the planes as full as possible with as few people bumped as possible, and they are required by law to compensate people who are bumped, though we might not think the compensation is sufficient. By contrast, the passenger strategies are used to deprive airlines of revenue intentionally.

    But there is also a fuzzy area. The strategy of booking three very cheap seats next to each other and not canceling any of them, so that you pay a total amount that is less than one first class seat, can be justified logically even though the airline probably wouldn’t let you do it if you told them in advance. Ditto a business traveler booking cheap nonrefundable tickets well in advance of all his trips, knowing that he will have to cancel a few here and there and get no refund or get only a credit, because overall that’s a lot less expensive than always waiting until his travel plans are absolutely firm and booking expensive last-minute tickets.

    There are other strategies that airlines hate that may or may not be easy to interdict. For example, if someone is flying from New York to some odd destination like Fort Wayne, Indiana, he might find a cheaper fare from New York to Chicago with a connection in Fort Wayne. If he doesn’t have any checked baggage or need to make a return reservation on the same itinerary, he can get on the plane in New York, get off in Fort Wayne and just skip the leg to Chicago. The airline may or may not suspect he did this intentionally, as opposed to just inadvertently missing his connection, but if he does it more than a few times, the airline will be sure and will punish him. And there is the nested round trip strategy. Airlines hate that too, but, if you think about it, they might not mind your booking a 3-week round trip between, say, New York & Dallas, with a two-week side trip in the middle from Dallas to Houston & back to Dallas, and if that is OK, then how does that really differ from a two-week side trip in the middle from Dallas to New York & back to Dallas . . . or from Dallas to Philadelphia & back to Dallas . . . on the same or on another airline? I don’t know how carefully airlines look for the nested strategy and what they do about it. I have never tried it.

  30. I keep asking this question but no one will answer it. Do you have to be an idiot to post videos to TikTok or does posting videos to TikTok make you an idiot?? It has to be one or the other right??

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