Posts Tagged ‘airline upgrade fees’

Airline Seat Reservation & Assignment Fees Reviewed

Airline extras and fees have been a hot topic lately.  As airlines continue to figure out new ways to make money, priority and advanced seating assignment fees are becoming more popular.  Although Northwest Airlines recently dropped its Coach Choice program, that move was not a sign of the program’s unpopularity or lack of revenue generation, but rather a result of their merger with Delta and Delta’s inability to maintain the program on their web platform.

Fortunately, most major domestic carriers have to this point resisted charging a fee for advance seat assignments or premium seating.  However, advance premium seating is still typically reserved only for the most frequent flyers and highest fare paying passengers.  So, perhaps the opportunity to snag a premium seat for a little extra cash might not be a bad thing, so long as you can still assign any regular seat for free at the time of reservation.

Unfortunately, however, the low-cost carriers have begun to exploit the flying public, especially families.  Most families want or need to sit together, so not obtaining seat assignments in advance might cause significant problems on the day of departure.

The biggest offender to date has been Spirit Airlines.  As you can see below, you can’t obtain seat assignments until check-in (24 hours in advance of your flight) without paying a fee.  To add insult to injury, Spirit Airlines only allows a random seat to be generated for free at check-in, without the ability to change it.  This nuance makes them the least family friendly domestic airline in this roundup.

To their credit, Southwest Airlines has taken the extra step of singling out families by guaranteeing those traveling with young children a priority boarding spot between their “A” and ”B” boarding groups.  Of course, this means that they have eliminated priority boarding for families, so I’m not sure if this is really supposed to be an “enhancement”…you decide.

Keep in mind that most fees are per segment, not each way, so if you have a connecting flight, you’ll pay that fee twice.  The chart below outlines advance seat reservation fees as well as premium seat fees for domestic airlines as of February 25, 2010.   First or Business Class upgrades may also be available for an additional fee.

  Airline Fee ForAdvanceSeat Res? Advance/Premium CoachSeat Fees   Exceptions
AirTran Airways Yes – In effect until 24 hours prior to flight $6  Non-premium$13/$15 Zone 1$20 Exit Row Passengers with disabilities, Business Class passengers, A+ Rewards Elite, A2B Corporate customers, Regular (YBM) coach fares
Alaska/Horizon Airlines No N/A Premium seats reserved for MVP Members & companions and Full fare coach passengers until check-in
American Airlines No N/A Advance Preferred seat assignments are available to AAdvantage Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum, AAdvantage Gold, AAirpass members and all passengers with Full Fare Coach tickets with a Y or B booking code.
Continental Airlines No $Varies for exit row seating – available at check-in beginning March 17, 2010. Advance Preferred seat assignments are available to OnePass Elite customers and passengers traveling on premium fare coach tickets. Exit row seats are assigned at no charge to Platinum and Gold members at any time or Silver members at check-in.
Delta/Northwest Airlines No N/A Advance Preferred seat assignments are available to Skymiles Elite customers and passengers traveling on premium fare coach tickets. Coach Choice has been discontinued.
Frontier Airlines Advance seat selection available only with more expensive coach fares $15-$25 Stretch Seating Advance seat selection for Ascent/Summit members and those on Classic Fares. Stretch Seating is complimentary on Classic Plus fares, and available as a complimentary upgrade at check-in or the gate for Summit/Ascent members.
Go! Airlines Open Seating N/A Priority boarding available for passengers with disabilities
Hawaiian Airlines No N/A Advance Preferred seat reservations for Pualani Gold and Platinum
JetBlue Airways No N/A None
Midwest Airlines No $25-$75 Signature Seating Select Business fares are assigned a Signature seat upon reservation. Midwest Miles Elite members have access to advance exit row seating assignments.
Southwest Airlines Open seating – Fee for early check-in (36 hours before flight) $10 Persons with disabilities or unaccompanied minors (aged 5-11) may pre-board.  Families with a child 4 and under may board between groups A and B if they don’t have an A group boarding pass. Business Select fares receive priority boarding.
Spirit Airlines Yes  – random assignment (no charge) at check-in cannot be changed $Varies Big Front Seat assignments generated at time of reservation. Seating for unaccompanied minors and persons with disabilities are pre-blocked and assigned on day of departure.
Sun Country Airlines Yes – In effect until 24 hours prior to flight $8 First class seats are assigned in advance at no charge.
United Airlines No From $9+ for Economy Plus Advance Economy Plus/Preferred seat assignments are available to Mileage Plus Elite customers (and companions) and passengers traveling on premium coach fares.
US Airways No $5 and up for Choice Seats at check-in Advance Preferred seat assignments are available to Dividend Preferred members.
Virgin America No $30-$100 one-way for Main Cabin Select upgrade Book a reservation or upgrade (at check-in) to Main Cabin Select.

So, as you can see, not all airlines are created equal when it comes to fees.  Make sure that you take into account all fees when choosing the “least expensive” fare.  Check out our roundup on checked baggage fees and stay tuned for future reviews of even more fees being imposed by the airlines!

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