More elbow room in the sky: How to buy a second seat for yourself on U.S. airlines
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Although many U.S. airlines blocked middle seats on planes during the height of the pandemic, the trend was relatively short-lived. Most airlines backed off blocking middle seats as travel demand rebounded in the summer and fall months of 2020. While Delta Air Lines held out the longest, come May 1, when it starts selling flights to 100% capacity once again, no U.S. airline will guarantee open middle seats.
That is unless you’re willing to pay extra.
If you’d like to return to the sky but want some guaranteed extra room, you can book a second seat for yourself … and potentially even earn or use miles on the additional seat in the process, depending on your airline of choice.
This isn’t a response to COVID-19 and social distancing. It has always been possible for a traveler to purchase a second adjacent seat on a plane, whether it’s a “passenger of size” who requires the additional room, a performer with a large musical instrument, or a passenger who just wants more space even though they could safely fit into one assigned seat.
In your quest for more elbow room, here’s how to buy a second seat on your next flight. Just note that you won’t receive any elite perks on the second seat that you purchase with American, Delta or United.
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Although Alaska is no longer blocking middle seats in regular economy, you’re guaranteed an empty middle seat in the extra-legroom Premium Class section through May 31, 2021.
The cost ranges depending on the flight’s length but can start as low as $9, with upgrades on some transcontinental flights costing more than $100. Elites get complimentary upgrades as long as you’re not on a Saver ticket. Beyond that date, you’ll need to purchase a second seat.
Thankfully, Alaska makes things pretty consumer-friendly when it comes to purchasing a second seat. All Alaska passengers are welcome to purchase an additional seat — called a comfort seat. A comfort seat must be booked by contacting the Alaska reservations team by phone. However, you can use a companion fare voucher (such as the one available with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card) or your Alaska miles to pay for the second seat. Note that to use a companion-fare certificate, you must book the second seat on the same reservation as the first.
If you spend cash to purchase the comfort seat, you are eligible to earn redeemable miles on that seat, though not elite-status credit. You will need to contact Alaska’s Customer Care Center once travel is complete to request a credit.
Note that if you are securing the comfort seat because you are a “passenger of size” and all of your flights departed with an unsold seat, you will be eligible for a refund for the second seat if you contact Alaska after your flights.
Standard checked baggage charges and waivers apply for each purchased seat.
American Airlines permits customers to book a second seat for a musical instrument because they require — or simply want — the additional space.
To book two seats, the customer must call reservations directly. According to an American Airlines spokesperson, the second seat must be purchased at the same fare and in the same fare class as the first seat. You can redeem AAdvantage miles for the second seat, but again, only if you redeem miles for both seats in the same fare class. Unfortunately, miles cannot be earned on the additional seat purchase even if you pay cash. Additionally, if you desire a second seat, it must be booked for the full itinerary — not just one segment.
Delta Air Lines
Delta, the last holdout, will stop blocking middle seats on May 1. Beyond that date, it is possible to book a second seat on Delta for yourself for whatever reason you wish.
You can redeem SkyMiles for the second seat. However, SkyMiles rules are written to prohibit earning miles on “Tickets purchased to carry excess baggage such as musical instruments and pets or to provide extra space for the primary passenger.”
Since Delta Basic Economy tickets don’t come with advance seat assignments, you’ll want to avoid that type of fare if you are booking two adjacent seats to have some extra space.
Related: Best credit cards for flying Delta
For a brief moment in time, Frontier made 18 “More Room” seats available on its flights through Aug. 31, 2020, which would guarantee an empty middle seat. These seats started at just $39 each, but this offer quickly ended as some passengers got up in arms over the concept that the airline would charge extra for social distancing during the pandemic. (I’d wager if it was introduced now the reception would be quite warmer than it was in 2020.)
Frontier no longer has any information available on the ability to purchase a second seat.
Hawaiian Airlines offers some lie-flat seating options at the front of the plane if you are heading from the mainland to Hawaii, but there is another way to get more space, even if you are sitting in the main economy cabin.
The airline permits customers to purchase an extra adjacent seat in main cabin (excluding basic economy tickets). To book, customers must call the reservations team at 1-800-367-5320.
There are no set discounts available on the second seat, but you can use HawaiianMiles to purchase an additional seat, as can the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard eCertificate — valid for travel between North America and Hawaii only. Note that the eCertificate can only be used on paid bookings, not award bookings. According to a Hawaiian Airlines spokesperson, if you do purchase the second seat with cash, it is eligible to earn redeemable miles.
Not only does JetBlue permit you to purchase an extra seat, but you can even complete the transaction online – a rarity when booking a second seat.
The process with Jetblue is pretty easy — simply select two adults (or however many you need) for the flights you want, and when it asks for the second adult’s information, you don’t provide additional names. Instead, you just click the option that says, “this is an extra seat for traveler one.” It’s that simple. In our tests to attempt to use JetBlue points for both tickets, the transaction failed, so it doesn’t seem you can do that — at least not online.
Southwest famously doesn’t offer advance seating assignments, so it is always possible that you won’t have someone sitting down in the middle seat next to you, as long as the flight isn’t full.
Unfortunately, the Southwest policy “does not allow the purchase of more than one seat for use by a single passenger for the sole purpose of ensuring additional personal space,” according to what a spokesperson told TPG. (So no designating yourself as your own companion on that Companion Pass.)
However, if you are purchasing a second seat because you need it as a passenger of size or similar reason, you can make the purchase online — and even contact Southwest for a refund after your flight on the second-seat purchase in some cases.
To purchase a second seat online, select one additional adult if you desire one additional seat. Under “who’s flying,” you’ll put your name for the first passenger and then XS as the middle name for the second ticket. For example, I’d buy a ticket for Summer Hull and Summer XS (middle name) Hull if I needed two seats for myself on Southwest.
If you are purchasing a pricier Business Select or Anytime Fare for the first seat, the second seat can be purchased at the discounted Child’s Fare if you call (800) I-FLY-SWA (800-435-9792) to book/purchase the extra seat at the Child’s Fare.
Spirit’s rules are pretty simple and straightforward if you want a second seat. The airline’s website states you can purchase an extra seat by using your name for both tickets and selecting the desired seat assignments. This is allowed whether you need the extra seat for yourself, want some breathing room or for any other reason.
You can use your Spirit miles for the additional seat, but you won’t earn miles on its purchase.
United allows you to purchase a second seat for extra personal space, though you’re going to need to call to make the booking over the phone. United lets you redeem miles for the additional seat and allows you to earn miles on the additional seat if you decide to pay cash. Note that the miles are redeemable and not elite qualifying miles.
The miles earned for the extra ticket should appear in the Airline Activity section of your MileagePlus account with the description “Extra Seat Credit.” United permits a doubled checked baggage allowance if you purchase an extra seat, though it will also charge you a double change fee if your plans change.
While this is likely true for all airlines, note that the United website spells out that you must be an active participant in preserving your extra seat and, if necessary, you can ask a crew member for assistance.
We all hope for an empty middle seat when we board the plane. When the boarding doors close and that middle remains empty, it feels a little like winning the seatmate lottery — even in a non-pandemic world. However, if you don’t want to rely on luck or an airline’s promise to try to keep the middle seat empty, most major U.S. airlines make it possible to book a second seat to ensure you’re not sharing that armrest with a stranger.
Additional reporting by Benji Stawski.
Featured image by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
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