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Take a Seat: hot tips for selecting the best airline seat

Getting a low fare on an airline ticket can be a wonderful thing, but that great feeling can be quickly tempered if you end up with a bad seat for your flight. The good news is there are easy options—both free and paid—to help ensure you get the best seat possible on your next trip.

FREE / NO COST TIPS

Select an off-peak flight
Travel when planes are not completely full—typically midweek and off-season for your destination. This gives you best chance of window or aisle seats, and potentially with no one in the middle seat. That means you can raise the arm rest and spread out!

Frequent flier programs
Join the club. Even if you don’t fly the airline often, or have status, joining the airline's frequent flyer program may allow you a better selection when choosing a seat.

Credit cards with benefits
If you can, sign up for one of the major credit cards offered by the airline—for example, Delta Sky Miles, American Advantage, Alaska Airline Signature, etc. Some perks may include early boarding, which gives you quicker access to overhead bin space and more time to get settled into your seat. You can also spend your way to elite status with some airlines by using your credit card for most purchases, allowing you to get upgrades and better seating on a regular basis.

NOTE: be sure to review all credit card terms, as some require an annual fee.

Check in online, as early as possible
Most airlines allow you to check in 24 hours prior to departure. If you selected a seat assignment when purchasing your ticket, double-check the seat information during check-in to ensure nothing has changed. If you are looking to switch seats, take advantage of the seat map provided during check-in to review newly-available seats.

Free online services like Seatguru.com prove to be a GREAT tool when looking at aircraft details and seat options. Simply type in your airline and flight number to learn your aircraft's inflight amenities—including information on WiFi availability, power outlets, restroom locations, and galley details. This site also provides testimonials and comments from other passengers.

TIPS FOR PAID OPTIONS

Upgrade options
When booking a flight, see what options are for coach fares to get best seats—from emergency exit rows to front of cabin—if available. Sometimes it's worth it to pay a little extra for a premium seat with more legroom or one in a better location in the cabin.

Options during check in or at the gate
Typically during check-in, passengers will be offered the chance to upgrade seats for a fee. Similarly, if the flight isn't oversold, the same option will be offered at the gate prior to boarding. For a longer flight, the additional fee may be a worthwhile investment for a more comfortable trip.

EarlyBird Check-In
If flying Southwest, you'll have an option to pay $15 for EarlyBird Check-In when purchasing your ticket. This service automatically checks in the passenger 24 hours prior to boarding, providing a better boarding number, which in turn offers more seat options since you board the flight before the majority of other travelers.

Premium Economy
Best invention ever! Many airlines are adding it for international flights—with more legroom, increased meal choices, and many more included amenities. Think of it as "business-class lite", at much lower cost.