Airlines are making families pay extra to sit together, angering some consumers, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“Airlines have expanded extra-legroom seating on planes and labeled more plain coach seats as preferred, leaving fewer seats to reserve in advance without fees,” Scott McCartney reported. Some carriers took away the right to reserve a seat in advance from their cheapest fares, he reported, while others are “openly marketing the so-called family fee.”
Elite Status Is Key
A big part of the issue is the disparity between consumers with elite status and passengers without top-tier privileges. For those with elite-level frequent-flier status, a greater inventory of unassigned seats is shown when they go to book reservations. In contrast, those who don’t have top-tier status only see open seats in extra-legroom rows or seats that require extra fees, the paper said.
“Why did I just pay for a better seat when I could have just moved around anyway?” Louis Silfin, a banking consultant in New York, lamented to The Journal. Silfin paid $9 extra to sit near the front of the plane on a roundtrip flight between New York and Boston. Each time he boarded the supposedly full flights, only five people filled the combined 12 seats from his row and the one behind.
For extended families taking a trip together, costs for advance seat assignments can run well into the hundreds or even the thousands, the paper reported.
Nabbing a Cheap(er) Seat
For their part, some airlines do try to make seat maps available to customers before they purchase a fare and try to seat families together at the airport. Recently, this reporter was checking in for a flight to New York when an Emirates agent noticed my husband and I weren’t seated together, despite booking our fares well in advance. We complained, and the agent resolved the issue, no questions asked.
Though spending extra on airfare isn’t ideal for families on a budget, there may be ways to get around it. For starters, you can budget for money-wasters, as I’ve written about before, and look into some of the best travel reward cards, which offer perks such as a free checked bag and the occasional seat upgrade.
Credit cards that offer airline miles are another option, as they can maximize your chance of nabbing a free flight or earning extra rewards toward one. Just be sure to check your credit before applying for any new credit cards since you’ll need a good score to qualify and want to avoid generating a hard inquiry on your credit report. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.)
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