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As if international airline travel weren’t already expensive and complicated enough, some airlines now charge passengers seat selection fees. I’m not referring to fees for “preferred” seats or those with extra legroom, but fees for any seat assignment at all. In fact, you may even have to pay a seat selection fee for your award ticket, or even some tickets in business class! In today’s post, I’ll take a look at some of the largest international airlines and their policies on seat selection.
Why This Matters
Let’s start by assuming that it’s reasonable for airlines to charge extra for seats on the bulkhead, the emergency exit or other seats with additional legroom. However, selection fees for standard seats is where things get more contentious. Some may view the ability to choose your seat as an added privilege, maintaining that the airline has done its job so long as it delivers you safely to your destination, no matter which seat you receive within your ticketed class.
However, this view fails to consider several important perspectives. First, the vast majority of airline passengers expect to sit with others ticketed on the same reservations, and I certainly know many couples and families who wouldn’t dream of taking a trip without being seated together. In addition, I found that information about these seat selection fees is often buried deep within an airline’s website, often nowhere to be seen before purchase. And when you book a flight that’s operated by a partner airline, such as a flight purchased from Delta but operated by Air France or KLM, there’s often no indication of any seat selection fees at any time during the booking process. Passengers may only realize that they’ll have to pay to sit together when they contact the operating carrier to try to select their seats.
In my opinion, seat selection fees are a way for airlines to monetize families’ anxieties about being separated from their children. Not only can these fees add up to hundreds of dollars for families with children on a round-trip itinerary, but it also becomes a safety issue when airlines assign parents seats apart from their children. Doing so makes them unable to fulfill routine parental duties, let alone assist in the event of an emergency.
Thankfully for US-based travelers, these seat fees mostly affect European airlines at this time, and some of them do make exceptions for families traveling with small children. And better yet, the FAA reauthorization bill from 2016 requires airlines to seat passengers 13 and under with an adult on their reservation, at no cost.
Airlines that don’t currently charge fees for selecting standard seats:
- Air Canada (except for the cheapest economy “Tango” fares)
- Air China
- Air Europa
- Brussels Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- China Airlines
- Copa Airlines
- Delta (except for basic economy fares)
- Emirates (except for cheapest economy fares)
- Kenya Airways
- Korean Air
- Japan Airlines (JAL)
- LATAM (except for certain domestic flights within Chile)
- Royal Jordanian
- Singapore Airlines
- TAP Air Portugal
- United (except for basic economy fares)
Seat Selection Fees for Major International Airlines
Seat selection fees in economy class are 20 euros.
Exceptions: All passengers receive free seat selection 30 hours before departure. Also, Flying Blue Silver, Gold and Platinum members, passengers with an Economy Flex fare ticket, passengers with reduced mobility and children traveling alone receive the standard seat selection service at no extra charge. Families traveling with children under 14 will have seats reserved together for free up to two days before the flight, provided they’re all on the same reservation.
British Airways, already a leader in imposing outrageous fuel surcharges, has gone further than any other airline in requiring seat selection fees. These fees apply to both paid and award bookings. Standard economy-class seats for UK domestic and Euro Traveller flights start at 7 GBP (~$9.50) each way, and at 20 GBP (~$27) on longer, international flights. Standard seat selection in World Traveller Plus (BA’s premium economy) starts at $27 per person, each way.
British Airways also charges for business-class seat selection, which is significant when its business-class cabins are often eight seats across! Fees start at $21 for short-haul Club Europe fares and begin at $93 for longer international flights.
Exceptions: Seat selection is free at check-in 24 hours before departure. Executive Club Bronze and Oneworld Ruby members can select seats for free seven days before departure, while Executive Club Silver and Gold and Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald can select seats for free at the time of booking. Families receive free seat selection at booking when traveling with a lap child, and while children are assured a seat next to an adult, families may not be seated together.
Economy-class seat selection fees for standard seats are 8 euros to 14 euros.
Exceptions: There are no fees for award travelers, those with refundable seats, elites including Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members and on flights to and from Japan (in select fare classes). Children are guaranteed seats next to one adult on their reservation.
This Spanish carrier has one of the most absurd seating policies, as it appears to go out of its way to make sure that you don’t sit together if you don’t pay the fee. It actually assigns seats at random at check-in if you don’t pay the fee. Unlike with other airlines that charge seat selection fees, there’s no option to select from the remaining available seats at check-in. It also charges more for seat selection at the airport than it does online. Seat selection for domestic flights costs $5 and up online and $7 and up at the airport. Flights within Europe and to the Middle East are from $6 online, and from $10 at the airport. Long-haul flights are from $15 online and $15 at the airport.
Exceptions: Customers with Iberia Singular or Iberia Plus Platinum or Gold cards (Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald) may select their seat for free at booking, including for others on the same reservation. Award tickets are exempt from seat selection fees as well.
LOT Polish Airlines
There’s a $7 charge for seats on domestic flights, $10 for short-haul flights and $25 for long-haul flights.
Exceptions: Free seat selection 24 hours before departure. LOT business and premium economy passengers can choose seats for free, as can Miles & More HON Circle and Senator members.
Lufthansa Group (Including Lufthansa Cityline, Eurowings, Air Dolomiti and Austrian Airlines)
On short and medium-haul flights a $11 charge applies to “Economy Light” fares, although most other fares include seat selection. For long-haul fares the fee is $35, though fares in X class have no seat selection fee.
Exceptions: Seats can be chosen for free at check-in 23 hours before departure, and seat assignments are always free for HON Circle elites. There are no exceptions for families traveling together.
The economy-class seat selection fee is 15 AUD for short-haul flights and 35 AUD for medium and long-haul flights.
Exceptions: Domestic flights, Platinum, Gold or Silver elites and equivalent Oneworld elites and companions, plus Emirates Skywards members.
Economy class seat assignments are on long-haul flights are $28 for a window or aisle seat and $12 for a middle seat.
Exceptions: There are no fees fro EuroBonus Gold and Diamond members.
South African Airways
Standard seat selection charges apply to economy booking classes G, W, L, V, T, Q, S, H, K, M, B and Y and vary from $10 to $25 depending on the length of the flight.
Exceptions: Fees are waived for Platinum elites in the Voyager frequent flyer program.
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