BACK

Cash Back

Airlines charging family-unfriendly fee for aisle, window seats

Summary

If you want to fly next to your young children, get ready to be zapped by airlines with fees for window and aisle seats

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of our partner offers may have expired. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

Dear Cashing In,

When I fly, it’s with my two daughters, 6 and 8, and we like to sit together. I can’t believe I got hit with a charge on my last flight just because I wanted a window and an aisle seat. Could I get a list of which airlines that are doing this so I can avoid them if possible? And do my frequent flier miles (I have a “generic miles card”) allow me to escape this new fee? — Bonita

Dear Bonita,

You’ve experienced firsthand the latest maneuver by the airline industry to squeeze a few more fees out of us, on top of fares that are up 3 percent this year. In the past year, most U.S.-based airlines have increased the number of economy seats for which they charge fees.

Delta, United and JetBlue have, so far, focused on charging for seats with extra legroom. I’m guessing you were on American, US Airways, Frontier, Spirit or Allegiant — all of which recently began charging fees for window or aisle seats.

With these fees, a window or aisle seat can cost as much as $29 each way on domestic flights and $59 on an international flight. I’ve never paid more than $20 per flight for a window or aisle seat, but assuming you were flying within the U.S., you may have paid almost $120 extra to sit with your children on a round-trip flight.

I think your situation, a parent traveling with young children, is hit hardest by this practice. What choice do parents have but to pay the fees, at least until kids are old enough to sit with strangers?

Do your generic miles  allow you to escape these new fees? Only if you’re prepared to spend a few extra points-miles to cover seat upgrades. Generic miles are generally considered a substitute for cash by the airlines booking your flights. They don’t lead to actual frequent flier status on a particular airline, and premium seating is reserved for that airline’s elite-level frequent fliers.

If you fly often and want to ensure seat choice for your family when you book flights, your best bet may be to earn enough frequent flier miles on one airline to achieve elite status  (25,000 miles minimum). A credit card co-branded with your airline of choice can help. Most airlines offer elite members first shot at what they consider premium seats.

As a general rule, even when an airline blocks out those “preferred seats,” you can often get the seat you want at the gate if the flight isn’t full — and you can usually tell if it is by looking at the seating chart.

Here’s an example: American Airlines expanded its “preferred seat” program last year, blocking out seats for full-fare and elite-level customers, then opening them up for sale 24 hours before a flight. If a flight has a lot of premium seats for sale the day before a flight, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get one at the gate without paying extra.

Now, in February, I paid an extra $13 on each of two legs of a journey on American to avoid sitting in center seats. You see, those flights were filling up fast, and I didn’t think there would be any window or aisle seats left if I waited to request them at the gate. However, for a third leg of the trip, I saw from the online seating chart that the flight didn’t appear full. So I took my chances and opted not to buy a seat in advance. My gamble paid off: At the gate, I managed to get the seat I wanted with no additional fee. The odds for me were favorable, but you may not be willing to take that chance given the age of your kids.

Which airlines don’t charge for premium seats? Southwest doesn’t assign seats, so no fees there. Alaska Airlines doesn’t charge for premium seating now, but its CFO announced earlier this month they probably will in the future. That’s one indication that this practice may be industry-wide by the end of this year.

See related:Credit card travel perks make them good vacation partners

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

What’s up next?

In Cash Back

Can transferring miles between two cards get you more miles?

Some credit card companies allow you to transfer accrued airline miles from one of their cards to another for bonus miles. Does yours?

See more stories
Credit Card Rate Report Updated: July 29th, 2020
Business
13.91%
Airline
15.48%
Cash Back
16.09%
Reward
15.82%
Student
16.12%

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more

Join the Discussion

We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company’s business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.