Vogue Magazine asks if you ever heard of a Knee Defender? It’s a little plastic gadget that was invented by a 6-foot-3 man named Ira Goldman in 2003. It clips onto your lowered tray table and prevents the passenger in front of you from reclining their seat. It’s hard not to applaud an aggravated passenger who decided to fight the misery of economy class with a clever invention. However, after one flight had to be diverted because of a passenger squabble over the Defender in 2014, most U.S. airlines have banned it. Thankfully there are some ways to circumvent the stress. It’s not hard to find and secure the perfect seat, and possibly even an upgrade, if you’re strategic.
Here, five tricks.
Check seat availability at peak times.
If you weren’t assigned a seat when you booked your ticket, or you didn’t get the seat you want, it is best to check for openings 24 hours before your scheduled departure. From that point all the way up until boarding is prime time for seat movement. Checking about open seats once you’re at the gate can also yield surprising results. As fliers with higher airline status are upgraded to business or first class, they vacate their preferred coach seats (read: front of the plane, aisle seats, exit rows).
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If you were able to snag a good seat at booking, congratulations! But it’s smart to check pre-flight that nothing has changed. Sometimes plane models will switch and the airline will automatically move your position without alerting you.
Do your seat research.
There’s an incredibly useful site called SeatGuru that breaks down everything you want to know about your plane: seat maps, seat pitch measurements, whether there are power outlets, in-flight entertainment, what special amenities might be available, and much more. Wondering if that bulkhead seat is right next to a loud galley? Take a look at reviews for that specific seat before you purchase your ticket.
Be mindful of your point of sale.
If you’re stuck flying coach, you might as well get a good deal on the flight, and where you buy your tickets can make a difference. Travelers have reported saving money on flights by booking through foreign versions of Expedia or Kayak. Your physical location impacts which sites you see: Purchasing a flight to Iceland from a computer in Chicago can generate a completely different price than from a computer in, say, Tulum, Mexico. To game this without relocating, some more tech-savvy travelers employ a VPN (virtual private network) to disguise their location and potentially access lower fares.
Take a risk.
You can often get a big discount on available upgrades if you’re willing to wait until the day of your departure to snag your preferred seat as opposed to paying up front when you first buy your ticket. Of course, if business- and first-class seats are sold out, you’ll be stuck with your original seat. But if you don’t mind the risk, this is one way to save.
Another trick to getting out of economy is to request an upgrade when you first book your ticket. This will cause your ticket to be issued with an upgrade request code that will typically put you at the top of the list for a free move to first or business class. Of course, you’ll have a better chance of an upgrade if you have higher status level.
Make money off your flight woes.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a way to salvage that incredibly annoying delay, cancellation, or lost luggage. Berkshire Hathaway offers AirCare: Starting at $34, you can insure yourself against your various air-travel woes. If your bag disappears for 12 hours or more, you receive $500. Delays of two hours or more will get you $50. Missed a connection? $100. Stuck on the tarmac for more than two hours? $1,000 will be transferred to your account.