6 reasons why I always pay to choose my seat on a plane

Mar 20, 2020

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Editor’s note: The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips. Health officials note that the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel. We are publishing travel deals and information because we should all use this time to think about and plan our next adventures. TPG doesn’t advise booking trips for travel until the late spring or early summer — and even then, be mindful of cancellation policies

As air travel becomes more accessible and airlines cut prices to entice passengers to choose them over their competitors, there are certain strategies that airlines are implementing to claw back the extra money that was shaved off the price of a ticket. After all, they are running a business and cash is king.

One such way is paying for seat selection. Nowadays even full-service carriers offer “basic” fares on both short and long-haul flights. More often than not with these fares, there’s a charge to choose your seat. Some airlines, including British Airways, even charge passengers who’ve paid for a business-class ticket to choose their seat and it can cost as much as £91 extra.

But, is paying to choose your seat worth it? In most cases, I think so — and here’s why.

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(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

1. Seat selection includes checked baggage and more

For example, a British Airways Economy Basic fare on a short-haul flight means you will either get allocated a random seat or you can choose a seat for a fee later in the booking process. You will also only get hand baggage and will be last to board.

However, if you pay a little more for an Economy Plus ticket — for example, for a flight from London Gatwick (LGW) to Geneva (GVA) in March at the time of writing — paying £24 extra means you will be able to choose a seat for free from 48 hours before your flight with the added bonus of being eligible to check-in hold luggage of up to 23 kgs. Suddenly that seems more interesting — especially if you really need to check a bag.

Related reading: How to pick your perfect aeroplane seat

(Image courtesy of BA)

If you don’t need a bag, then paying for the benefit of choosing a seat only 48 hours before your flight becomes less interesting as, by this time, the cheaper seats are likely to have been taken already and those with BA Silver status or above will have also been able to select seats for free at the time of booking.

If you decide to forgo the Economy Plus ticket upgrade and instead purchase a single seat separately, that’ll cost you from around £28 at the front of the plane to £10 at the back — a cheaper option than Economy Plus.

Related reading: Is a Tier Point run for British Airways Silver status worth it?

(Screenshot courtesy of BA)
(Image courtesy of BA)

Now let’s talk low-cost, where the packages are usually more expensive and cost more than the actual cost of the flight. Probably the most stringent on baggage allowance in Europe is Ryanair, but that’s not shocking. The airline’s value fares only include a tiny bag that must fit underneath your seat.

Related reading: Everything you need to know about flying with Ryanair

(Image courtesy of Ryanair)

So, if you need so much as a carry-on bag (of only 10 kgs in weight), then you would have to pay a minimum of £21 for a £10 flight from Stansted (STN) to Rome (FCO) in March at the time of writing. As you can see, you can pay up to a total of £75 more for added benefits, which is more than an additional 700% of the cost in this example.

(Image courtesy of Ryanair)

Or, if you’re only travelling with a tiny handbag and nothing larger, you could probably be able to get away with just paying for a seat, which can cost as little as £4 with Ryanair — it’s all about working out what’s the best value for you.

2. More legroom

Even at 5 foot 8 inches tall, the snug 28 inches of seat pitch on some of Jet2’s aircraft can be rather uncomfortable after a while. If you’re on the tall side or just like to stretch out, then you, too, will appreciate paying that bit extra for a front-row seat or an emergency exit row where you’ll be guaranteed some extra legroom.

There are a couple of things to note about these seats. First of all, they’re often quite a bit more expensive.

Also, on long-haul flights, bulkhead seats are also often reserved for families travelling with babies as bassinets are often located on the partition in front of the seats.

The actual seats themselves are often a bit more “fiddly” than the rest. If you’re lucky enough to have inflight entertainment, then your TV will likely have to be folded away for takeoff and landing, meaning no gate-to-gate entertainment. Meal trays are usually stored in one of the armrests, too. Just a little something to bear in mind when deciding to spend that little bit more on extra legroom.

3. You can avoid the middle seat

For many frequent travellers, the best seat in the house, especially in economy cabins, can be a contentious issue. Does sitting at the window seat really mean you’re more selfish? And does choosing to sit in the aisle mean you’re more sociable?

Related reading: Comparing Europe’s top 4 low-cost carriers

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Differences aside, whether you’re team aisle or team window, the one thing that you will probably agree on is that avoiding that dreaded middle seat is crucial for a comfortable flight. So, to avoid being given a boarding pass with a middle seat at check-in, it makes sense to pay that little extra to choose your seat in advance.

4. You’re quicker off the plane at the front

When choosing your seat, the closer to the front of the plane you are, the more expensive the seats get. Choosing a seat nearer the front for most airlines often means less time waiting for passengers in front of you to deplane and hopefully more chance of being nearer the front of the queue at immigration — a double win.

Even just 12 rows back on a tiny A320, almost 10 minutes passed before I was able to leave my seat.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

5. Service happens sooner

Most airlines start the food service front to back, especially on short-haul flights. Some airlines operating long-haul flights start service from the back as well as the front of the aircraft (British Airways is one of them), meaning that if you’re seated in the middle of the cabin you’re likely to get served last.

My tip? The closer to the front the better. Or, if you’re certain that the service also starts from the back, that could be a good option as well.

6. You can guarantee your seatmate

With some airlines — especially low-cost ones — if you don’t pay for a seat, you will be randomly allocated a seat at check-in. This, meaning that if you’re travelling with friends, family or colleagues you may end up sitting at opposite ends of the plane.

Bottom line

As a rule, the closer to the front of the aircraft you are, the chances are the better your all-round inflight experience will be. However, there are some travellers who swear by sitting near the rear of the aircraft. Ultimately, whichever you prefer is up to you. Next time you’re booking a flight, remember this article and seriously consider paying to choose your seats in advance — I promise you won’t regret it, if only because it means avoiding the middle seat.

Featured photo by KT Genter/The Points Guy

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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