7 Ways to Get More Comfort and Still Fly Cheap

Most of us are content to forgo lie-flat seats and our own personal showers on planes if it means saving thousands of dollars on airfare – and it does. But that doesn’t mean we have to give up every comfort. Here are seven ways, big and small, that will improve your total flight experience without breaking the bank.

Travel expert Rick Seaney tells editor Anne McDermott which flights aren’t worth any extras. Listen:

1. Fly airlines with bigger seats

100% of the seats on all JetBlue and Virgin America flights are at least an inch bigger than the standard 31-inch seat pitch (and yes, an inch does make a difference). However, plenty of other airlines have at least some slightly roomier seats for free. SeatGuru is a great resource for seat-size info.

Tip: Always compare airfare prices. You don’t want to pay double what you’d normally shell out for airfare just to get a slightly bigger seat.

Now what would you pay to fly in total luxury?

2. Pay a little for bigger seats

More legroom doesn’t have to cost – well, an arm and a leg. Two examples of decent prices for a little more personal space:

3. Negotiate for bigger seats

Sometimes airlines are willing to haggle over better seats that might otherwise go unoccupied. There are three places to check for this:

  • Online when it’s time to retrieve your boarding pass
  • At the airport kiosk – look to see if there are any bargains there
  • At the gate – see if your airline gate agent is willing to negotiate (they may be more willing the closer it gets to departure time)

4. Avoid the crowd by boarding early

Avoid the crowds and be assured of bin space. Some airlines price early boarding perks reasonably (like Southwest’s Early Bird for $12.50). Here’s how to get it for nothing:

  • Join the TSA PreCheck program: It doesn’t cost much. It may even be free.
  • Fly enough so you earn status in your miles program which guarantees this perk
  • Apply for an airline-branded credit card that offers this perk for free (a number of them do, along with free checked-bags)

4 Hidden hassles of flying – and what you can do about them

5. VIP Lounge day pass

I can understand if you don’t want to shell out $500 a year for an airline VIP lounge – but how about $50 for a day pass? This could be invaluable during a long delay, not for the free drinks, snacks and Wi-Fi necessarily – but for the dedicated airline agent in the club. This is the person who can straighten out delay snags and do it a lot more quickly than the harried agent facing a line of unhappy passengers at the gate.

6. Create a comfort kit

Want a quiet flight but you’re not on one of the airlines that have banned children? My never-fail kit always contains noise-canceling headphones. Toss in a compact neck pillow, maybe a blanket and definitely some food and you are set.

7. Cheap entertainment

Once again, fly Virgin America and JetBlue where every seatback has a screen (and a lot of free channels) but other airlines have similar offerings. Southwest has free TV, too, but you have to bring your own device. To my fellow football fans, I should note that airlines usually charge a fee for the so-called premium channels that carry the big games.

More from Rick Seaney:

How to Get a More Comfortable Flight without Breaking the Bank


Published: September 10, 2013