Is It Worth Paying Airlines For Seat Allocations?

Most passengers view paying for seat selection as an invidious trend amongst airlines. It’s cheaper than ever to fly and many travellers love a rock bottom fare, but they dislike paying ancillary fees for items like seat selection.

Is it worth paying airlines for seat selection? My personal view is yes. I used not to and got sick of being stuck in the middle seat half way down the plane. That said, the rule strictly applies to low cost carriers. Premium carriers like British Airways and Emirates charging for seat selection is way out of line.

airline seat allocation
It is worth paying airlines for seat allocations? Photo: Wikimedia Commons

But it is an individual’s own decision that is determined by a whole set of subjective and objective criteria that will vary in importance for each individual.

In a few weeks I am on a low cost carrier for a four hour late evening flight. Four hours is way past my normal low cost carrier pain threshold, but the fare was irresistibly cheap. I buckled and brought it. So much for my “you are only to fly business class in 2019” rule. 

It’s not going to be a great flight but I paid for seat selection; a front row seat so I would have extra leg room and nobody leaning their seat back into my space.

It’s still a very good deal and, accompanied by an overpriced LCC wine and olives pack, should be a tolerable flight. I’ll also be amongst the first off. That will be important with a 12.55am touch down time.

In this case, I think it is totally worth it. But I’m only paying the seat allocation fee for myself. Cost can become an issue when you are paying for a group or travelling long haul.

airline seat allocations
I’m usually happy to pay extra to pick a seat on short sectors on low cost carriers. Photo: Pixabay

My seat choice is in line with what Henry Harteveldt, boss of a San Francisco travel industry analysis firm told CNN;

“Airplane cabins are a type of real estate. And as with all types of real estate, some locations are more appealing than others… the better seats cost more than those that are less appealing.”

Seat selection costs can be high on longer flights

On longer flights, seat selection costs can be an issue.

A query on Tripadvisor about whether it is worth paying $45 per passenger for a couple to sit together on a nine hour B.A. flight brought some mixed responses. Some people could happily sit away from their husband for nine hours. However, the smart money suggested checking out how busy the flight was a couple of days out and determining then whether it was worth paying for seat selection.

airline seat allocations
On BA you can always check how busy the flight is before deciding whether to pay for seat selection or not. Photo: Pixabay

The issue becomes more fraught when your are travelling as a group, particularly if your group includes children, elderly or the infirm. Now you’d think that any airline would ensure that kids sat with their parents and carers travelled next to the infirm, but that is not necessarily so.

Interestingly, a Civil Aviation Authority study found that some of the worst offenders for splitting groups up were the premium airlines that charged far higher base fares. While Ryanair was the standout worst offender, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic were the next worst offenders, beating low cost airlines easyJet and Flybe.

Emirates is no longer enabling free seat selection on some business class fares and it’s something Lufthansa is also looking at in its premium cabins.

Final thoughts

Like it or not, payment for seat selection is here to stay. Getting passengers to willingly accept it is a long term proposition for the airlines. But, as passengers come to expect low fares, airlines have to look for new ways to make a profit in an increasingly competitive aviation environment. 

Charging for seat selection is just one means of doing so.