Of the many things that make restrictive basic economy fares a bummer, the inability to pick a seat is the worst. It often leaves you stuck in a middle seat between strangers, rows away from your travel companion.
But if you’re flying Delta, there are a few ways you can still pick a seat. You’ll have to pay up with one method. And with some vigilance and luck, there’s another way you can snag a better seat for free.
Read on to learn how it’s done. And if you want to take it to the next level, keep reading to learn how you can beat Delta basic economy fares altogether and make it even better.
Option #1: Pay Up
Delta was the first of the major airlines to roll out no-frills basic economy fares way back in 2013.
And while these come with some major restrictions – you can’t change your flight or get free upgrades from Delta Medallion status – Delta’s spin on basic economy is more generous than many of its competitors. The airline has always allowed a carry-on, while others like United Airlines still don’t.
But for years, Delta hasn’t allowed basic economy flyers to pick a seat in advance. In fact, the airline’s own policies and warnings make clear it’s not possible. You typically get a seat at check in, or get an assignment at the gate before boarding.
But that’s not exactly the case. Delta now allows basic economy passengers to pick a seat within the final few days before departure – for a fee. A Delta spokeswoman confirmed that the airline rolled out this ability “part way through 2018.”
“Delta does provide an option for Basic Economy customers to purchase a seat assignment because customers have told us that having a seat assignment further in advance than 24 hours from departure is important to them,” spokeswoman Kate Modolo said.
The fees for picking a seat with a basic economy ticket vary by route – seemingly from as low as $10 to $30 per flight. The norm is $29 per seat, whether you’re choosing an aisle, window, or middle seat. And you have to purchase a seat assignment separately for each leg of a trip.
But you won’t be able to pay up for a seat assignment right off the bat. It seems as though the window to pick a seat opens about seven days before departure. That appears to be the case for both domestic and international flights.
Once the time comes, log in to your Delta account and check on your flight. Once the window opens, you’ll be able to hit the “Select Seat” – a function that’s typically grayed out for basic economy passengers.
Just keep in mind the selection may be somewhat limited. Here was what was available for an upcoming flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to New York-LaGuardia (LGA) about four days before takeoff.
In this case, the seats are almost entirely at the back half of the plane. On the bright side, there are plenty of window and aisle seats available. And no matter which you choose, it would cost $29.00.
But at $30 a seat, that’s not a good deal. Consider this: Delta typically charges about $70 more for a main cabin round-trip fare. So you may be able to get a seat assignment on each leg of the trip for the same price, plus the other benefits that main cabin fares have over basic economy.
Still, if you want to make sure you’re sitting next to your companion, it’s worth considering. And if you’re willing to roll the dice, there may be a way to do it for free.
Option #2: Last Chance at a Free Seat
Airlines have conditioned us to expect next to nothing for a basic economy fare. But it doesn’t always have to be that way.
Depending on how many seats are still open on the plane after check-in opens 24 hours before take-off (or 48 hours on international flights), you’ve got a window to make a choice for free.
Once check-in opens, basic economy flyers on Delta (and other airlines) have a chance to pick the best of what seats are left. And just how many seats are left will vary wildly by route, time of day, time of year, etc.
Sometimes, you might have a nearly empty cabin to choose from. Other times, the entire cabin may be booked and you’ll be left to get a seat assignment at the gate. It just depends.
But if you want to avoid a middle seat or get seats together, you have to watch the seating chart like a hawk. Check the seating chart on the site or via app every hour or so for the few hours after the check-in window opens. And check again the morning before your flight. As other passengers move around the cabin or cancel flights, better seats may open up.
On a recent flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Las Vegas (LAS), there were just a few dreaded middle seats open when online check-in opened 24 hours in advance. But after checking the seat map religiously for the next few hours, it happened: There was an open aisle seat.
So I chose it immediately. And, as luck would have it, there was another seat just across the aisle for my friend. It couldn’t have worked out better.
This is the best-case scenario – it won’t always go so smoothly. But it can pay off huge to watch closely and snag a seat.
How to Beat Delta Basic Economy Fares
These options to pick a seat are phenomenal. They can solve one of the biggest sources of frustration behind basic economy fares.
But you can take it even further and take even more of the pain out of basic economy. That’s why I’ve learned to stop fearing Delta’s basic economy.
What’s the secret? Read our guide to beat Delta basic economy.
You can never count on getting a choice seat when flying basic economy. With a basic economy fare, you get the best of what’s left. And sometimes, a middle seat far away from your companion is all there is.
But if you’re willing to pay up, you can get a better seat. And with some vigilance and luck, you can beat Delta’s basic economy game for free.
Lead photo courtesy of Delta News Hub via Flickr