How to Book a Good Airline Seat for Free (A Cool Trick)

How to Book a Good Airline Seat for Free (A Cool Trick)

By |2019-09-12T05:03:07-04:00September 3rd, 2019|Transportation, Travel Tips & Advice|22 Comments

Book a Good Airline Seat

When you purchase your flight, you could simply pay a lot of money to book a good airline seat. Of course, most airlines charge you to select a seat in advance. And prices for choosing your own seat in advance seem to be on the rise.

Recently, I was flying from Miami to Lisbon and TAP Portugal Airlines wanted $57 for me to choose a good seat. I decided not to pay.

Does that mean I was stuck with a bad seat?

Not at all. If you don’t want to dish out a bunch of money, there’s definitely still hope for you to book a good airline seat.


The second option…

I’m going to use another example of a recent flight I took.

Washington Dulles Airport to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines (A330-300 airplane)

Since I didn’t feel like paying another $50+ for a seat in advance, I waited until 12 hours before the flight departure time to check-in. At this point, Turkish Airlines, like many airlines, allowed me to choose a seat for free.

Upon checking in, however, the seat chart showed only 3 available seats for me to choose from. And to no surprise, the 3 available seats were all in the middle of the middle section, way in the back, in the last three rows. This is quite common to have the worst seats on the plane appear as the only options.

At first, you might think these are indeed the only seats available and that you must choose one. So, you’ll end up choosing what you think is the ‘least worst’ of these terrible seats.

But…try this instead:

A Simple Trick to Book a Good Airline Seat

  1. Don’t choose one of the seats
  2. Keep the app/website open to the seat chart
  3. Refresh the page or revisit the seat chart every few minutes
  4. You’ll start to notice that new seats will suddenly become available for you to choose
  5. Keep doing this until a really good seat is available
  6. Choose it, complete the check-in process and you’re good to go 


Flight Good Seat


How does this work?

When you go to check in 12 hours before your flight (or any time before your flight), there is no way that every passenger has chosen or been assigned a seat. Too many travelers don’t check in until they get to the airport and too many travelers wait until a few hours before the flight to check in online. Therefore, those people won’t have an assigned seat until they do check in.

As a result, when you check in online, the airline will try to force you to choose a crappy seat on the plane, hoping to fill up those seats with people who actually choose them. This is good for the airline as it leaves better seats available in case they need to move people around or resolve a situation by offering a passenger a good seat.

But, if you keep refreshing the seat chart, during that time, other people will start checking in online and choosing their seats. The chances are extremely high that other passengers will choose those crappy seats, thinking that they are the only seats available.

Then, once those crappy seats have been selected by other passengers checking in online, new seats will become available, because again, all of the seats have yet to be assigned. Once those few new seats are selected by other passengers, other seats will become available and so on, until a couple of hours before the flight when everyone has checked in.

With the example above, I refreshed the seat chart every 5 minutes for about 30 minutes. During that time, the available seats for me to choose from changed as the less desirable seats were filled by others.

I’m quite picky when I fly long distances. I really want to have an aisle seat in the middle section, close to the front of the plane. It’s just my thing.

After 30 minutes of refreshing, boom! Seat 19D was suddenly available, exactly what I prefer, and I grabbed it.

I then finished the check in process and was on my way, in a great seat.

Had I chosen one of those original 3 terrible seats, I would have been stuck in the last rows, in between two other passengers, right next to the bathroom, for 10.5 hours. And it would have been because I fell for the trick airlines play to get me to choose those unfortunate seats.

Don’t fall for the trick. Follow the above and you should get your desired seat, most of the time at least.


Want to learn how I booked 13 flights around the world for $2200?

The Travel Email - SIGN UP!

New blog posts, updates from around the world and endless inspiration to help you achieve your own travel goals. Sent once per week.


  1. Julia February 27, 2020 at 11:56 am - Reply

    Great trick! This reminds me a story when booking flights for a small plane. The seat map showed only a few seats left (if you wanted to sit together) so we hurried and booked them only to find out that the plane was half empty. Since then, we don’t bother unless it is a very long-haul flight.

  2. Isabella Miller November 18, 2019 at 2:35 am - Reply

    That is one great trick, Derek. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  3. Nora October 27, 2019 at 11:56 am - Reply

    Great tips!!
    I knew a guy whose job it was to ensure airplanes are loaded properly. He said that the seats you see aren’t the only seats available, but that if they actually showed the available seats, passengers would likely all choose seats that would result in the plane being imbalanced (eg: everybody choosing seats at the front, and/or on the left side).
    So I’d suspect that the seats shown at online check-in are also taking into account a weight/balance formula.

  4. Tude September 11, 2019 at 11:02 pm - Reply

    This is really a cool idea..I have chosen not to pay but never thought like waiting during check in can bring you good seat…Awesome!! Wondering, how this might work for the family of four. Would give it a shot next time..
    Happy Traveling!!

  5. Mitch Glass September 11, 2019 at 7:26 am - Reply

    How on Earth did you figure this out?? Great tip, man! Will be using this on my next flight LA to Philippines 🙂

  6. Michael September 10, 2019 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    Jetstar from DPS sells every seat for money. Meaning I still have to pay if I want to sit by choice.
    Any idea how to overcome that?

    • Derek September 10, 2019 at 5:14 pm - Reply

      The best way for that is probably to check in at the airport 3 hours early and then ask the check in staff for the seat you want. Some airlines allow you to change your seat after you check in, so maybe you could check in online, get the seat they give you and then log back in to your reservation and change it?

  7. Marcy September 10, 2019 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the suggestion, I was also told some tips on how to get upgraded to Business class on long trips. I’ll find those and share with you. We are traveling to Bali next year which is the farthest point on the globe from us and I’m going to do everything I can to get upgraded as I can’t sleep on planes.

    • Derek September 10, 2019 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      Good luck! That would be wonderful if you get upgraded on that long journey 🙂

    • sylvie February 29, 2020 at 8:46 pm - Reply

      Love to hear about the tips to get upgraded Marcy.

  8. grahame pike September 10, 2019 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    Hi, Derek thanks for that good advice. I had no idea that we could change our seat with the app/website you mentioned. I appreciate your help and will try it before taking my next flight. Enjoy your time in Spain. It’s one of the nicest countries in Europe to visit.

    • Derek September 10, 2019 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much Grahame!

  9. Tate September 4, 2019 at 3:24 am - Reply

    I have done what Jamie said above as well. I simply call up the airline and tell them that I have really long legs and I would like a window seat if possible. A lot of times they ask for my details and help me book an exit window seat with great leg room. This usually works for me so I do it often. Nowadays I have changed my travel strategy and stay in a central country, currently in Dubai UAE, and then from there explore all the countries in that region. Has been working great to and faster checking off the countries on my list. Number 70 coming up.

  10. Jamie September 4, 2019 at 2:42 am - Reply

    For 30 minutes you could have called Turkish Airlines and told them the seat map is blocked and they will seat you up front, aisle.
    I’ve done every time I don’t get an assigned seat or assigned a crap seat. It has worked every time so far, but I travel mostly with Singapore Airlines or Thai Airways, I did it’s last year flying Bangkok to Morroco with Turkish. The Istanbul Morroco leg (4 hrs) , I also got upgraded to First class which was I nice surprise.

    • Derek September 4, 2019 at 3:09 am - Reply

      Hey Jamie – I’ve tried that before but didn’t have as much success with the phone call. Also, some airlines have it set up so that the staff on the phone will see the exact same seat chart that you’ll see when trying to check in, so they won’t be able to assign another seat that doesn’t appear.

  11. Daniel September 3, 2019 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    Can I do this if I use a third-party website or should I book directly with the airline? From my experience, I could not select a seat when booking with Expedia or the like. Thank you.

    • Derek September 4, 2019 at 3:07 am - Reply

      Hey Daniel – Yes, even if you use a third part website to book your flight, you still receive the confirmation # for the actual airline. Using that confirmation # and your last name, you can log into your reservation on the airline’s website directly and use the above trick.

    • tol cher September 4, 2019 at 5:59 pm - Reply

      Any advise on how to choose sits together when flying with kids?

      • Derek September 5, 2019 at 3:57 am - Reply

        If traveling with kids, the best thing is to wait until less than 24 hours before the flight and call the airline. Hopefully you’ll get someone willing to assist. Otherwise, the trick above won’t work unless you get really lucky and a few seats open up together.

  12. Tim September 3, 2019 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    This exactly happened to me as well a few days ago. Luckily, it was just a quick flight from England to Germany, but I thought it was bizarre that only three middle row seats were available.

  13. gsutiger September 3, 2019 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    I hate when they do this. I sometimes feel the people who check-in the earliest should have the better seat options to choose from. Sort of like an incentive to check-in.

  14. Kristina September 3, 2019 at 10:29 am - Reply

    Good advice when traveling solo (or with a companion that you don’t mind not sitting with)! However, I have two young children, so I am essentially forced into paying for seats (or spending more for a fare class that allows you to select a seat), since airlines have no obligation to sit you all together. Seems a bit unfair to me! And it definitely adds up when I have to pay for 3 seats!

Leave A Comment