The Ultimate Guide to Snagging Exit-Row Seats on US Carriers
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With seat pitch decreasing in economy on many carriers, exit row seats are highly coveted due to the extra legroom they usually, but not always, provide. Many airlines allow flyers who have elite status to select exit row seats for free either at booking or at check-in, but there are often ways for non-elites to snag these seats as well.
Although exit row seats have their benefits, there are also downsides. Thry are often narrow, because the armrests are fixed, and the tray table and entertainment screen usually extend from the armrest and can be uncomfortable to use. Exit-row window seats often only have partial armrests, and both the view out the window and the legroom may be limited due to the exit door design. Plus, exit row seats on larger planes are sometimes near lavatories, where people are likely to gather, and won’t recline if there’s a second exit row behind them. So, consider the tradeoffs. And, of course, you can only sit in an exit row if you’re willing and able to assist in case of an emergency.
This guide provides the details on how to snag exit row seats on the 10 largest US-based airlines by revenue, as well as a few examples of how much it will cost to do so.
Alaska’s website states that only Elite Level Mileage Plan members can reserve exit-row seating in advance, but non-elites can check in via the web or kiosk as normal, and then consult exit row availability with any customer service agent at the departure airport.
However, in practice, exit-row seating can be reserved by non-elites in advance. On most routes, exit-row seats are only available to elites and any passenger traveling on a refundable fare. But, on some routes, exit row seats are available as Premium Class seats that can be purchased during booking. I searched a few routes where they could be reserved by anyone during booking. For example, from Seattle (SEA) to Austin (AUS), all of the available exit row seats cost $69 more than main cabin seats and $99 more than saver-fare seats.
For a New York JFK to San Francisco (SFO) flight, all of the exit row seats were bookable for $119 more than main cabin seats and $149 more than saver-fare seats.
If you want an exit-row seat when flying Alaska and don’t have status, you’ll want to search your route on Alaska’s website and click “Preview Seats” under each option until you find an option that sells exit-row seats as Premium Seats on each leg of your trip. Or, if you have status with another airline, you could status match to get Alaska Airlines elite status, which will allow you select exit-row seats on many flights. A final option would be to purchase refundable fares on a route where doing so provides access to exit-row seats, but these fares are usually expensive.
Allegiant Air charges between $0 and $80 if you wish to select a seat. However, on most routes I checked, ranging from short to long, the price to reserve an exit-row seat at booking was between $18 and $21. You can purchase your seat at booking or shortly after, using the Manage Booking page.
American Airlines classifies most, if not all, exit-row seats as Main Cabin Extra seats. Main Cabin Extra seats are free for all Oneworld and AAdvantage elites within 24 hours of departure, and for all Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members as well as AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members at booking. Even if you don’t have any status you can pay to select Main Cabin Extra or Preferred seats, including exit rows. And remember that Main Cabin Extra seats come with complimentary beer, wine and spirits. Note that if you’re flying on a Basic Economy fare, you usually won’t be able to pay to select a seat until within 48 hours of departure.
Prices vary for Main Cabin Extra seats depending on route, but are seemingly the same regardless of date or whether you get a window, aisle or middle seat. For example, from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG) exit row seats cost $170 each, while from Dallas (DFW) to Paris (CDG) they are $129 each.
For a transcontinental flight from New York JFK to Los Angeles (LAX), it was $101. And for a short hop from New York LGA to Portland, Maine (PWM), $33.
However, don’t book in Basic Economy and select (and pay for, if you don’t have eligible elite status) exit row seats when booking. Since these seats are available to many elites at booking and all elites at check-in, the chances that you’ll be able to snag one at the airport are slim.
Delta Air Lines
Delta’s exit row seating in economy is designated as Delta Comfort+ or Preferred Seating. Delta sellsals Comfort+ seating as its own class, but you can pay extra when booked into the Main Cabin to purchase Preferred or Comfort+ seating. However, if you’re flying on Basic Economy fares, you’re not eligible for paid or complimentary upgrades to Preferred or Comfort+ seating. All levels of Delta elite status get complimentary Preferred Seats and Comfort+ upgrades, although Comfort+ upgrades will clear at different times for different status levels.
On the A330-300, a widebody jet Delta uses on many transcon and transatlantic routes, exit-row seats are only available in one row and sold as Preferred Seating.On the transcontinental JFK to LAX route, prices vary for different travel dates, but for a flight I checked 45 days out the buy-up to a preferred exit row seat was $115, while the buy-up to a Comfort+ seat with extra legroom was $129. Given this small price difference, many passengers might find the Comfort+ seat more comfortable than the exit row.
For a short-haul route from ATL to Savannah (SAV) on Delta’s MD-88, exit row seats are sold as Preferred Seating. Prices vary, but for a flight I checked 45 days out, the buy-up to a Preferred exit row seat was $29, while the buy-up to a Comfort+ seat with extra legroom was $44.
Don’t purchase a Basic Economy fare and purchase your Preferred exit row seat when you book if possible. Note that Preferred seats usually don’t go on sale until 45 days before departure though, so you may need to purchase Preferred seats after booking if you book far in advance. In some cases it may be a better value to purchase a Comfort+ seat.
Frontier sells stretch seating that has 5-7 more inches of legroom than normal seats. It starts at $20 until 24 hours before departure — at which point you’ll pay at least $25 — but pricing varies by route. There are two exit rows on some Frontier planes, but only row 13 is marked as stretch seating. This is because row 12 has extra legroom but isn’t pre-reclined. If you don’t mind not being pre-reclined, row 12 may present an opportunity to get extra legroom at a discount. For example, from New York LGA to Denver (DEN) you can pay $44 for an exit row seat in row 13 or $37 for an exit row seat in row 12.
Or, from DEN to SFO, you can pay $27 for an exit row seat in row 13 or $20 for an exit row seat in row 12.
Frontier claims that purchasing seating at booking is the least expensive. So, if you know you want exit row or stretch seating, it’s probably best to purchase your seat at booking.
Hawaiian sells exit row seats as Extra Comfort Seats on Airbus A321 and A330 routes and as Preferred Seats on select North American routes and all neighbor island routes. Hawaiian Pualani Platinum and Pualani Gold elites are eligible for upgrades to Extra Comfort and Preferred Seats at the airport based on availability, but other customers can purchase upgrades to Extra Comfort and Preferred Seats either at booking or after booking as long as they didn’t purchase a Basic Economy fare.
On the A330 route from JFK to Honolulu (HNL), all Extra Comfort Seats, including exit row seats, cost $160 extra to select. But on the A321 route from Sacramento (SMF) to HNL, Extra Comfort Seats, including exit row seats, only cost $80 extra to select.
On the neighbor island route from Kona (KOA) to HNL, exit row seats only cost $10 extra since they’re classified as Preferred seats.
If you want an exit row seat when flying Hawaiian, don’t book in Basic Economy and select (and pay for, if you don’t have eligible elite status) exit row seats when booking.
JetBlue’s exit rows are all sold as Even More Space seats, which have up to seven inches more pitch than standard JetBlue seats. The cost to reserve an Even More Space seat varies based on route and seat location. For example, exit row Even More Space seats on JetBlue’s Boston (BOS) to LAX route cost between $99 and $101, and the LGA to BOS route cost $30. You can also use JetBlue miles to reserve an Even More Space seat; using your miles to do so can provide excellent value. Unlike on many airlines, JetBlue elites don’t receive complimentary upgrades to Even More Space seats.
If you’re looking to reserve an exit row Even More Space seat, do so when you book to make sure you get the seat and space you want. Check the number of miles required to reserve the seat you want as well, since this can often provide value much greater than TPG‘s current valuation of JetBlue miles at 1.3 cents each.
Southwest does boarding and seating a bit differently. No one is assigned a seat, so there’s no way to reserve an exit row. Instead, you merely select whatever available seat you want when you board. Boarding order is determined by the order you sign in when check-in opens 24 hours before departure. But, even if you check in immediately, Southwest elites and those who purchase a Business Select fare, upgraded boarding or EarlyBird Check-in will be ahead of you.
Generally if I check-in exactly 24 hours before departure or purchase EarlyBird Check-in, I’ll be able to snag an exit-row seat. But, I might end up in a middle seat and/or have to argue with someone who is attempting to save a seat. So, if you’re serious about making sure you get an exit row seat, you’ll want to purchase a Business Select fare or upgraded boarding — which is often available for purchase at the gate before boarding. Business Select fares are usually substantially more expensive than other fares, but upgraded boarding is sometimes available for $30 to $50.
The Points Guy himself enjoyed Spirit when he flew in an exit row from Havana to Ft. Lauderdale in 2017. Regular seats, including exit row seats which provide up to 30% more legroom, cost $1 to $50 to reserve. However, in some cases, Big Front Seats will be a better value since they cost $12 to $150 when purchased in advance and $25 to $175 when purchased onboard — and they provide up to 35% more legroom and 25% more width.
For example, here’s what seat costs currently look like on a flight from ORD to LAS in May:
Spirit doesn’t offer free upgrades unless they are operational upgrades, so you should plan on purchasing an exit row seat if you want one. Big Front Seats and exit-row seats sometimes sell out, so it’s best to do so early if you’re sure you want the extra space.
United allows you to reserve some exit-row seats that the airline calls Preferred or Economy Plus seating. If you purchase a Basic Economy fare, you can pay to reserve Preferred exit-row seats but not Economy Plus. The cost to reserve Preferred or Economy Plus seating varies based on route and aircraft. For example, on United’s 757-200 between EWR and SFO, the cost for exit row seats ranges from $23 to $209. The first row of exit-row seats is classified as Preferred seating and costs $23 to $29 to reserve. The second row is classified as Economy Plus seating and costs $203 to $209.
Or, if you’re flying from EWR to BOS and want an exit row seat, it will cost you $47 to $49 on United’s 737-700.
Some United elites get complimentary access to Economy Plus, but you can also purchase an Economy Plus subscription from United if you fly the airline frequently but don’t have status. Since United elites and subscription members will snag the best Economy Plus seats as departure nears, it’s best to purchase exit row seats when you book if you know you want the extra room.
If you’re tall or simply want extra legroom, exit row seats can make your economy flight much more comfortable. As shown in this guide, almost every airline will charge you to reserve exit row seats. Of course, you can always try asking nicely for an exit row seat at the airport — and this will sometimes work — but if you want to guarantee yourself an exit row, you’ll need to plan ahead and pay.
Be sure to understand the details of the seat you’re paying to reserve, though. If there are two adjacent exit rows, usually the seats in the first row won’t recline. And, some aircraft may have exit doors that restrict the legroom of the passenger in the exit-row window seat. Some airlines, like United, discount the price of these sub-optimal exit-row seats, while others will sell them at full price. And, remember: some airlines sell seats that may be more comfortable than exit row seats at a similar price — such as Spirit’s Big Front Seat — so be sure to check all your options before simply assuming the exit row is the best place to sit in economy.
Featured image by JT Genter/TPG
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