Want to avoid the middle seat? You’ll pay
With flights running full this summer, it can be hard for families to find seats together — or for travelers to avoid the middle seat — without paying an extra fee for seats.
The Dallas Morning News
Northwest travel guides
Before you book that summer flight, you should take a look at seat availability. We are finding that summer seating is very tight, and on some flights, you may have to pay to sit together if you are traveling with the family.
Finding seats together for July will be especially challenging because family travel is in high demand.
I recently booked a ticket from Dallas to Los Angeles 30 days in advance, and the fare was $288 round trip. When I looked at the seat map, the only seats available were middle seats unless I wanted to pay an additional fee of $28-$30 each way for a “main cabin extra” seat.
If you’re traveling with a family of four and you don’t have elite frequent-flier status, there is no way you’d sit together on this flight without paying $100 more each way.
If you are an elite frequent flier, make sure you are the first passenger listed on the reservation. This will give you a good chance of getting better seats for everybody on the same itinerary.
You can try to find seats together within 24 hours of departure, when the airlines typically open up more seats that were held back for elite frequent fliers. Your final resort is asking at the ticket counter in case seats open up because of no-shows.
When you are shopping for airline tickets, remember that Tuesday and Wednesday flights offer the best chance for the best deals, and Saturday can be good, too. These are less popular days to fly and may help you avoid seat fees.
Southwest doesn’t have seat assignments, but you can pay extra to get in one of the early boarding groups.
If you pay $12.50 per person in advance, you will have a good chance of getting in the “A” boarding group, and you should be able to find seats so the family can sit together.
Spirit is notorious for its fees, but Spirit’s seat assignment fee starts at $10, which is cheaper than American’s.
The best thing Spirit has to offer is its Big Front Seats, which cost $25-$50 more on average on many flights from Dallas. These seats are similar to first class in size and legroom, but without any service perks.
Seat fees vary by the length of the flight. Dallas-to-Los Angeles flights we looked at had seat fees of $28-$30, but when we looked at flights from New York to Los Angeles, the flights had fees of $78-$90 for main cabin extra seats, and half of those were middle seats.
Main cabin extra seats do offer up to 6 extra inches of legroom, so you get some space for those fees.
American also offers “preferred” seats for a fee, and these seats are closer to the front or are window or aisle seats, but they don’t offer extra legroom.
If you don’t care where you sit, you don’t have to worry. But with the summer load factors running so high, you may have to pay up if you want to sit with your family.
If you wait to travel until fall, you should find lower fares and a better chance of finding advanced seats together without paying a fee.
Tom Parsons is CEO of www.bestfares.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.