Seat fees could raise cost of holiday air travel
Fees for more leg room and more comfortable seats are kicking in as airlines continue to seek more cash for their bottom line.
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — If you want a comfy seat on your next flight, airlines are making it more likely you'll have to pay. If you already pay for extra leg room, you could soon be forking out more.
Fliers are entering the first holiday travel season with several new or revamped seat offerings. Some airlines, including American and Delta, are adding more leg room to certain seats and charging a premium to passengers who want to reserve them early.
Travel experts expect the trend to spread, just like baggage fees and early boarding charges.
"The airlines are continuing to look at ways they can charge fees to make a profit," said Matt Daimler, founder of SeatGuru.com, which tracks airline-seating information and seat-pitch data.
SeatGuru's online polls in recent years have showed that travelers would be willing to pay up to 10 percent more for a seat with more leg room, Daimler said.
American Airlines in August bumped up the number of "preferred" seats, which involve a fee, unless you're an elite status flier. Window and aisle seats near the front of the main cabin are priced from $4 a flight.
Delta recently launched "Economy Comfort," its name for premium economy seats priced from $80 to $160 extra each way. They offer four more inches of leg room on long-haul international flights and recline 50 percent more than standard international economy-class seats.
Delta plans to add Economy Comfort to the rest of its fleet, including smaller regional jets by summer 2012. The first 757 will begin operating with an "Economy Comfort" section in November.
Passengers traveling on a one-way itinerary will pay an extra introductory fee of $19-$99 for the seats, starting in late spring for summer travel.
The new seats will be in the first three-to-five rows of the economy cabin and fliers who purchase them will board before other economy customers.
JetBlue Airways added what it calls an "Even More Space" option earlier this year. This service gives fliers early boarding and early access to overhead bin space and seats with extra leg room in select front and emergency rows on its aircraft. The fee varies but starts at $10 for short-haul flights.
If you don't want to pay extra for the extra leg room or comfy seat, travel experts suggest waiting until the day of your flight.
To avoid seat fees, one trick is not to choose a seat during check-in. By refraining, chances are fliers will get a premium economy seat for free, Hobica said.
"The only downside is that seat might be in the middle rather than on an aisle," he said.
That strategy worked for attorney Andrea Madigan, who was assigned aisle seat 6C on a recent Frontier flight from Denver to Fort Lauderdale after she declined to pay extra for a "better" seat during online check-in.
"I got a good (seat)," said Madigan, who flew on a cheap $250 round-trip economy fare and didn't want to shell out more for a seat.
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