Buying An Extra Seat On A Flight

A mega fare sale happened yesterday. In this case it was Delta offering wide open availability from my hometown of Phoenix to London for $500 round trip. Phoenix hardly ever gets the big sales major hubs do. There I was, scrambling to text my wife to see if she’s on board for a spontaneous trip. In this case, the fact that we’re expecting our first child in May squashed my chances of convincing her to hop over to London. It did get me thinking though. What is the process for buying an extra seat on a flight? With prices that low, having some extra space would be really nice.

First Class On A Coach Budget

Let’s pretend my wife and I weren’t expecting a child. $500 round trip to London from Phoenix is significantly lower than normal. A summer flight to Europe from Phoenix is usually in the $1500 range. With such a deep discount, purchasing an extra seat for comfort and sleeping doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Even better, it would eliminate getting stuck next to one of the worst airlines passengers. In this case we’d be spending $1500 round trip for three seats. That’s significantly lower than any economy plus option out there and much cheaper than first or business class.

Typical economy class cabin
Movable armrests on the left, fixed on the right. Image courtesy of Flickr user SuperJet International

Booking An Extra Seat

Ok so you’ve found an amazing flight deal, and you want to book that extra seat. Unfortunately Google Flights doesn’t just have an “extra seat for myself” option. Even if they did, would you enter your name twice? What about birthday? Would that raise a red flag with security?

After doing some research, each airline has a different way to book these flights. That means you’re going to have to call. If you’ve ever spent any time calling an airline, you probably know that the people answering aren’t always up to speed with procedures, miles, points and anything else outside of a normal booking. You’re going to want to make sure you know the airlines policy before you call. Don’t rely on the person you’re talking to.

Before calling, run a Google search of you airline with “EXST” next to it. EXST is airline lingo for extra seat. Most airlines will assign this as your first name on a flight to show that you’re buying an extra seat on a flight. When I search “JetBlue EXST”, I get a result that takes be into a deep, dark corner of JetBlue’s website that explains their policy. At Southwest, utilizing this search method will take you to a page geared towards “Customers of Size.” That’s fine since you’re essentially looking to accomplish the same thing. This is also a common request for passengers that like to travel with large musical instruments.

Do Your Research

Before you decide to pull the trigger on all that extra space, make sure you research which plane you’ll be flying on. If you’re a couple and want one extra seat, make sure each of your flights has a row with exactly three seats across. Likewise, if you’re traveling solo and want to purchase an extra seat, make sure you’re in a row with just two seats.

Now that you know which row you want, make sure that it has movable armrests. Often times bulkhead and exit rows have armrests that are fixed in order to hold tray tables. Take a look at the photo above. That would really ruin you master plan of stretching out on a long haul flight. Seatguru is a great resource for understanding the configuration of your particular plane. As always, you’ll also want to monitor your reservation for any plane changes or IT glitches leading up to your flight that could impact your seat assignments.

Will I Earn Points or Miles?

Long story short, don’t count on it. Since the airline will likely assign EXST as your name for the extra seat, you won’t be earning double miles. Of course it never hurts ask, you’ll already be on the phone anyway.

Bottom Line

I’m an awful plane sleeper. I’ve given up trying to sleep in traditional economy seats. It’s just impossible. No amount of melatonin and alcohol can save me. I think if the timing were right, I would really consider the extra seat approach as long as it was in conjunction with a huge sale like Delta was running today.

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