Strategies For Scoring The Best Seat On The Airplane

If you've already booked your flight, there are a few strategies worth knowing that could score you the "best" or a "better" seat on a plane. This could mean a cabin upgrade or simply a different seat that better accommodates your preference and particular situation. We put quotes around "best" and "better" because ideal airplane seats are subjective.

While we don't think anyone would turn down a free upgrade to first class, we're not going to throw hats in the ring concerning a "better" seat between the aisle and window, front or back, bathroom proximity, etc. Whatever is best for you is best. Statistically, the safest airplane seat is a middle seat in the very last row. Is that the "best" seat? Could be. Depends on who you ask.

Whatever your particular flavor of seat experience, there are a few ways to get there without, you know, paying for it (which is a pretty foolproof option). In the past, preferred seating was baked into the price of your flight, but depending on your airline, this probably isn't the case any longer. Fortunately, there are a few possible workarounds.

Earn an elite flyer status

The most surefire way to score the "best" seat possible is to earn elite status with a particular airline or alliance of airlines. After joining a frequent flyer program and accruing enough miles, elite flyers are the first in line for upgrades. If better seats are available, elite flyers — especially high-ranking ones — can typically score an upgrade. While you'd need to fly a lot with the same airline or alliance to earn elite status, first dibs on seat upgrades is one of the unsung perks of frequent flyer programs.

Although this tactic has its limitations, such as seat availability and routes, earning elite flyer status is a tried-and-true way to upgrade your seat. However, in the hierarchy of seat selection, this largely applies to upgrading cabins. When it comes to finding a better seat within the same cabin, there are a few things you can do (or not do) from the moment you book to the moment you board that may reward you with preferred seating.

Roll the dice on seat selection

Unfortunately, most airlines now charge travelers to select their seats. If you're okay with purchasing a preferred seat, the best time to do so is during booking. And the earlier you book your flight, the larger the selection of seats you'll have to choose from. If you don't want to pay, then you'll need to roll the dice a little. That means not selecting a seat.

While airlines try to present that seat selection is a must during booking, it's not. You don't have to select a seat. By doing so (or not doing so), you have the opportunity to possibly get bumped to a better seat. Since premium economy, economy plus, or other advanced seating is costly, there's a chance your fellow passengers skipped the surcharge and opted for basic seat selection. If your flight's full and these seats are available, the airline will need to fill these seats with someone. Who better than a passenger who didn't select a seat?

Again, this is a roll of the dice. Obviously, you shouldn't bank on constantly getting upgrades through passivity. By skipping selection, you're at the whim of the airline's seat placement, but you do have contingencies. If you didn't select a seat, you'll be assigned one upon check-in, and by this time, you can see what's still available. If you arrive at the gate early enough, simply ask the gate attendant (politely) if you can change to "better" seats.