The Best Seats on a Plane in 2023 – How to Get Them Cheap or For Free
There is nothing better than getting a great plane seat. While everyone has different preferences, factors like leg room, lack of noise and turbulence, access to overhead bin space, and the ability to get off the plane quickly are important to most people. The good news is you are mostly in control of where you sit as long you book early enough.
What Are The Best Seats on a Plane
No plane seat is perfect, and it is always going to come down to the individual. Here are a few factors to help you find the best seat for you.
First Class and Business Class – Best Overall Seat
First class and business class seats have it all — plenty of leg room, priority boarding, bigger and more comfortable seats, and the ability to get off the plane first. In most cases, first class seats also have dedicated overhead bin space and a dedicated bathroom. The food and drinks are complimentary, which is a huge plus for long flights.
The only drawbacks are the price and safety. In some cases, first class and business seats cost thousands of dollars more than those in the main cabin or coach. Elite airline status, points, and the right airline credit card can help, but you will be paying more in some fashion.
Additionally, seats towards the front of the plane are not as safe as seats in the back. As Time Magazine noted, seats in the rear of the plane had a 32% fatality rate in the event of a crash compared to 38% for seats towards the front. Regardless of the statistics, a crash is extremely unlikely, so the biggest barrier is the price.
Aisle Seats – Great for Aisle Access, Great for Larger Passengers, and Good for Leg Room
Aisle seats are great for taller people or those who like to stretch their legs. Those in the aisle can come and go as they please since they do not have to bother their seatmates to get up every time they need to use the bathroom. Aisle seats located in an exit row are my personal favorite because there is even more leg room. Larger passengers can also lean into the aisle for more room. Window and middle seats do not allow leaning, so aisle seats are ideal for those who need more space.
Drawbacks of aisle seats include having to get up when others want to use the bathroom and the flight attendant reaching over you to serve food and drinks to your seatmates.
The Vacationer Recommendation – Find and Book Cheap Flights
See a few of our top flight and airline guides to get the best prices on airfare.
– Best Websites for Booking Cheap Flights and Airfare
– How to Find Cheap Flights
– How to use Google Flights
– Best Day of the Week to Fly
– Best Day to Book Flights
– What to Do if Your Airline Cancels or Delays Your Flight
– How to Avoid Airline Flight Delays & Cancellations
– How to Use Skyscanner
Exit Row & Premium Economy – Great for Leg Room and Overhead Bin Space Access
I always try to sit in an exit row seat if I am not sitting in first class. If there are two rows of exit row seats, I always sit in the second one. The reason is other seats cannot recline into an exit row, which means I will have more leg room and the person in front of me cannot recline. In most cases, I can fully stretch my legs and not be close to the seat in front of me. Please note that children must be at least 15-years-old to sit in an exit row. They must also be capable of performing the required duties in the event of an emergency.
While most airlines consider exit row seats to be premium economy, there are other seats in that category. There are typically located towards the front of the plane and have more leg room. Some airlines dedicate the overhead bin space above those seats to only customers sitting in premium economy. That greatly increases your odds of finding overhead bin space near your seat. Depending on the airline, free alcohol, early boarding, and other perks may also be available to those sitting in premium economy.
Exit row and premium economy seats cost more than those in the normal economy section. The best ones often sell out early, so I recommend booking as soon as possible if you want to snag an aisle or window seat in premium economy.
Window Seats – Great for Sleepers, Kids, and Those Who Want Quiet
Window seats are best for those who want to sleep on the plane. They allow you to lean against the plane’s wall instead of on your fellow passenger. A window seat means you do not have to get up when others in your row need to use the bathroom. Additionally, the flight attendant does not have to reach over you when handing food and beverage to others in your row. Finally, window seats are often quieter since you will be less likely to hear people and flight attendants moving up and down the aisle.
Window seats are also great for kids. Looking out the window gives them something to focus on. The window seat also keeps them away from a sometimes busy aisle of carts and people waiting in line for the bathroom.
While the window seat does have its advantages, there are drawbacks for some people. Like the middle seat, the window seat may feel cramped for some people. Additionally, you have to ask two other people to get up every single time you need to use the bathroom.
Regardless of its drawbacks, the window seat is the absolute best place to be if you want to sleep.
Over The Wing – Great for a Smooth Ride and to Avoid Turbulence
Seats on or close to the wing tend to experience less turbulence than seats away from the wing. You should book a seat close to the wing if you ever feel nauseous on flights. Those seats will tend to be towards the middle of the plane, so you will have to give up certain benefits such as being one of the first people off the plane. The plane’s center of gravity is close to the wings, which is why those seats enjoy a smoother ride.
Towards The Front of The Plane – Great for Tight Connections and Less Noise
Seats near the front of the plane are great if you have a tight connection or just want to get off the plane quickly after landing. Generally, seats in the first few rows are desirable and cost more than those towards the rear of the plane. If you are on a dual aisle plane, you should aim to get a seat on the left row or an aisle seat in the middle row. The reason is the plane’s exit door is on the left side. For single-aisle planes, you should book an aisle seat for a quicker exit.
In addition to getting off the plane quickly, seats toward the front of the plane tend to be quieter than those in the back or middle.
Bulkhead Seats – Great for Kids and Sleepers
The bulkhead is a row of seats directly behind a wall of the plane. The bulkhead separates sections of the plane, and it often has a bathroom near it. It is great for kids because there is no row of seats in front of it. That means you do not have to worry about your children kicking the seats in front of them or distracting those passengers. Additionally, there is often more leg room in front of bulkhead seats, which allows your kids to stand if they need to. Since bathrooms are often close by, you do not have to walk your kids to the other side of the plane to use the lavatory.
Bulkhead seats are also good for sleepers since there are no seats in front of you. That means no one will recline into you potentially disturbing your sleep.
Near The Bathroom – Great for Kids
Seats close to the bathroom are great for travelers with children. It is tough to predict how many times kids will need to use the bathroom during a flight, so it is best to be close to a lavatory just in case it is a lot.
The good news is many people avoid seats near the bathroom due to noise, crowding, and potential foul odors. That means seats near bathrooms may be available longer than seats away from them.
Back of The Plane – Great for Those Who Prioritize Safety and Empty Middle Seats
As previously referenced, seats towards the back of the plane are safer in the event of a crash compared to those in the middle and front. There is a 32% fatality rate for passengers in the back compared to 38% for seats towards the front. A crash is unlikely to happen, but your odds of surviving are better if you are in the back of the plane.
Since safety is one of the only benefits of sitting in the back of the plane, many people do not willingly choose to sit there. If your goal is to have an empty seat next to you, pick either an aisle or window seat towards the back of the plane. That strategy will not help you on a full flight, but it will if the plane is only 75 percent to 85 percent full.
How to Get The Best Seats on a Plane – Start With SeatGuru and The Airline’s Seat Map
Now that you have identified the best seat for you, here are ways you can secure it on your next flight. Before booking, use SeatGuru to check the plane’s configuration. The plane type and model should display before and after booking. In some cases, there may be multiple versions of the same aircraft where some of the usual best seats may have issues. You should also understand the airline’s seat map. You can view it before or after booking, and it will show you the available seats as well the price if there is one.
You should book as early as possible if there is a specific seat you want. While that may not get you the best airfare price, it will guarantee you are comfortable. Waiting too long may mean you are stuck in a seat that has one or more negatives. Southwest Airlines does not allow you to pick your seat beforehand, but every other airline does.
Secure Airline Elite Status
Having elite status at an airline is a great way to get a top seat for free or at a discounted rate. In some cases, that will extend to every person on your itinerary. For example, those who have at least AAdvantage Gold® status with American Airlines can select Preferred Seats for themselves and their entire party. At check in, those with Gold status can select Main Cabin Extra seats for themselves and their entire party. Those seats may cost $100 or more each, so the savings quickly add up when having status. Those with Platinum, Platinum Pro, and Executive Platinum can always select Complimentary Main Cabin Extra, so the benefits increase with higher status.
Status also increases the odds of being upgraded to first class or business class for free. Those tickets may cost thousands of dollars, so earning status may pay for itself after a single upgrade.
Further reading: American Airlines AAdvantage Loyalty Program and Delta SkyMiles Loyalty Program
Buy a Ticket That Allows You to Pick a Seat for Free
Basic economy and equivalent tickets do not allow you to pick your seat. Instead, you will be assigned a seat at check in or before boarding. While you may get a good seat, the odds are you will be stuck in the middle towards the back of the plane.
At the minimum, you should purchase a ticket that allows for seat selection. While you still may have to pay more for the best seats, you can still select a fairly decent seat.
Buy an Upgraded Seat Before or At Check In With Cash or Points
Unless you have status, you are probably going to have to pay extra for the best seats. That includes exit row seats, premium economy seats, seats in first class, and seats towards the front of the plane. Depending on the seat, it could cost as low as $20 to upgrade or as high as thousands of dollars. If using cash to upgrade, I recommend a credit card that earns extra points on flights. The Platinum Card from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve are two of my favorites.
Points may be the better option if you have enough of them. In some cases, points are worth more than 1 cent per point if you use them on the right flight. It may also make sense to buy points if you do not have enough of them if there is a special match deal.
Waiting until a few days before the flight or at check-in to upgrade may work in your favor if the seats are very expensive. The airline is going to want to get at least something for the premium seats, so they may be willing to sell it for a few hundred dollars as opposed to a few thousand.
Take Advantage of Credit Card Perks for Free or Discounted Seat Upgrades
Numerous credit cards offer free or discounted seat upgrades. Two of my favorites are The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
The American Express Platinum Card has up to a $200 per calendar year airline incidentals credit (enrollment required). While the credit cannot be used to purchase plane tickets, it can be used to buy seat upgrades. To use the credit, you must purchase the seat upgrade in a separate transaction from when you buy the airfare. This is a great way to get preferred or premium economy seats for free or at a discounted rate.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $300 annual travel credit. Chase has a very broad definition of travel, so seat selection and upgrades count. Unlike the Amex Platinum Credit, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit can be used on airfare, so you should pick the upgraded seat you want upon booking.
Buy or Get Priority Boarding on Southwest Airlines Flights
Since Southwest Airlines does not have assigned seating, it is important to get on the plane as early as possible. The best way to do that is by purchasing upgraded boarding. Starting at $30 per segment, this perk allows you to board in the A1 – A15 group. That means you will get on the plane early and have better access to aisle and window seats towards the front of the plane. Not purchasing this upgrade may severely limit your options and force you to sit in an undesirable seat.
You can also purchase a Business Select® fare to be in the A1 – A15 boarding group.
If you do not want to pay for upgraded boarding, you should check in as early as possible for an earlier group. Check-in starts 24 hours before departure, so I recommend doing it right when it opens.
Finally, those with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card get 4 Upgraded Boardings per year (when available). The card has a $149 annual fee, so it is not likely worth getting it just for the upgraded boarding perk.
Ask for an Upgrade at the Airport/Gate
It never hurts to simply ask for an upgrade. Your first opportunity to ask is when checking in at the counter before entering security. Remember, being polite and courteous goes a long way. You can also ask at the gate. I recommend simply asking if any better seats are available as opposed to specifically requesting first class. This method works better on emptier flights as opposed to full ones.
Ask to Switch Seats After The Doors Close
This is your last chance to get a better seat. After the plane’s doors close they do not open back up. That means no other passengers will be coming on the plane. Scan the plane for empty, desirable seats. Ask the flight attendant if you can switch seats. As always, be polite to the attendant and say “please” and “thank you”.
Further Reading: Airplane Seat Switch Etiquette
Choose Flights with Planes with Only Two Seats Per Row
Planes with only two seats per row are ideal for those who do not want to be stuck in a middle seat. They are also great for couples who want to sit alone. To find them, simply look at the airline’s seat map before booking.
What Are The Worst Seats on a Plane?
In most cases, the worst seats on a plane are the opposite of the best seats on a plane. There is no hard rule or list, however. What one person finds to be a terrible seat another may find it to be a luxurious experience. In most cases, middle seats in the back are on everyone’s list of bad seats. It depends on your situation though. Most people do not want to sit near the bathroom, but those seats may be ideal for those with kids. Think about your situation and travel group when deciding what seats are good and bad.
See our complete guide to the worst seats on a plane and how to avoid them for more information.
Here are the best seats on a plane:
– First Class and Business Class – Best Overall Seat
– Aisle Seats – Great for Aisle Access, Great for Larger Passengers, and Good for Leg Room
– Exit Row & Premium Economy – Great for Leg Room and Overhead Bin Space Access
– Window Seats – Great for Sleepers, Kids, and Those Who Want Quiet
– Over The Wing – Great for a Smooth Ride and to Avoid Turbulence
– Towards The Front of The Plane – Great for Tight Connections and Less Noise
– Bulkhead Seats – Great for Kids and Sleepers
– Near The Bathroom – Great for Kids
– Back of The Plane – Great for Those Who Prioritize Safety and Empty Middle Seats
Here are a few tips to secure the best seats on a plane.
– Check SeatGuru and the Airline’s Seat Map
– Book Early
– Secure Airline Elite Status
– Buy a Ticket That Allows You to Pick a Seat for Free
– Buy an Upgraded Seat Before or At Check In With Cash or Points
– Take Advantage of Credit Card Perks for Free or Discounted Seat Upgrades
– Buy or Get Priority Boarding on Southwest Airlines Flights
– Ask for an Upgrade at the Airport/Gate
– Ask to Switch Seats After The Doors Close
– Choose Flights with Planes with Only Two Seats Per Row
The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts
If you’re anything like me, getting a good plane seat is extremely important. While I know I cannot always sit in first class, there are a few things I need in a seat. Make a list of your own personal preferences, and decide how much you are willing to pay to be comfortable.
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