Travel News

The Preferred Seat Hoax: How Airlines Are Charging More to Book the Same Seats

Locations in this article:  Los Angeles, CA Miami, FL

SM: Elite level frequent flyers are often given access to exit row seats and other perks. You run a greater risk of getting bumped from a flight if you don’t have a seat assignment. Now, fliers feel pressured. They buy a ticket and go online and there are no seats available. Or the seats that are available are middle seats in the back of the airplane. So they either wait to see if something opens up or get pressured into buying one of the preferred seats even if it’s a seat middle in the front of the airplane.

PG: Then there’s United Airlines who have Economy Plus, which Continental planes will now be doing it too.

SM: Continental is doing it too, but they’re doing a really interesting change. Beginning next year, their lowest level of frequent flyers, the Premier level, can no longer reserve economy plus seats in advance. They will still be able to reserve economy plus seats for free at check in. Folks at that level might end up in a middle seat or pressured into paying themselves for economy plus. It’s really taking away one of the true perks of the elite level status.

PG: I remember looking at one particular flight, AA flight 871 from Boston to Miami, where there were 27 seats open online but 21 of them were classified as preferred seats, “requiring extra payment ranging from $4 to $39.” Now, what the heck is a $4 seat? I need to know what that is!

SM: It’s a preferred seat on a flight that’s really not preferred. It’s all supply and demand. There are some flights where preferred seats will sell much better than others, depending on the clientele. If there are a lot of business travelers, they will get gobbled up.

PG: Scott, you may not believe it but, as a matter of principle, I will not pay for a preferred seat. I will take whatever seat I have to because I think the program is a joke.

SM: What do you get when you’re paying that fee? It’s outrageous. It is a fundamental question here of what do you get when you buy an airline ticket? You ought to get a seat assignment and paying extra to reserve a seat you already bought takes nickel and diming to a whole other level.