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Delta Basic Economy Pick Seat

How You Can Still Pick a Seat with a Delta Basic Economy Fare

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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 your 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.


The Basics of Delta Basic Economy

Delta was the first of the major airlines to roll out no-frills basic economy fares way back in 2013.

And while these Delta basic economy fares come with some major restrictions – you ‘ll have to pay to cancel a flight for a Delta eCredit and you won't even earn any SkyMiles or credits toward Delta Medallion Status – Delta's spin on basic economy is still more generous than many of its competitors. The airline has always allowed a carry-on, while others like United Airlines and JetBlue don't.

  • Baggage: Get a carry-on bag and personal item for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag (or $60 each way to Europe).
  • Seat Selection: Seats are typically automatically assigned at check-in or at the gate, but keep reading to see how you can pick your seat!
  • Boarding: Boards last in Delta’s boarding order.
  • Earning SkyMiles: No, Delta basic economy fares no longer earn SkyMiles
  • Earning Delta Medallion Status: No, basic economy flights no longer earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs), or Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs)
  • Upgrades: Not eligible for complimentary upgrades or paid upgrades to first class or Delta Comfort Plus. Even if you have Delta Medallion status, you will not be eligible for upgrades.
  • Ticket Changes and Cancellation: Only free within 24 hours of booking. Main cabin tickets (and higher) are now eligible for free changes.


Beat Delta Basic Economy 

It's clear these no-frills fares aren't going anywhere. Delta has doubled down on them coming out of the pandemic, charging more than ever before to upgrade to a main cabin fare. Delta went where no other airline has gone by nixing the ability to earn redeemable SkyMiles or status with the airline when you buy a basic economy ticket.

But it's not all bad news … especially when there are two little-known ways you can still get a seat with Delta basic economy.


Option #1 to Pick a Seat: Pay Up

For years, Delta hasn't allowed basic economy flyers to pick a seat in advance. The airline's own policies and warnings make clear it's not possible.

But that's not exactly true. Delta generally allows basic economy passengers to pick a seat starting seven days before departure – for a fee.  A Delta spokeswoman confirmed that the airline rolled out this ability “partway 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,” a spokeswoman previously told us.

The fees for picking a seat with a basic economy ticket vary by route – seemingly from as low as $10 to $45 or more per flight. And you have to purchase a seat assignment separately for each leg of a trip. The norm for years was $29 per seat, whether you pick an aisle, window, or middle seat. But lately, we've seen much cheaper seats available for purchase.

delta basic economy pick seat 

But that's not always the case. Sometimes it's a lot more – like this flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Las Vegas (LAS).

seat assignment price 

Once the seat selection window opens starting seven days before your flight, log in to your Delta account and check on your flight. You'll be able to hit the “Select Seat” – a function that's typically grayed out for basic economy passengers. Or just pull up the flight on your Delta app and hit “Purchase Seat.”

delta basic economy pick seat 

Just keep in mind the selection may be somewhat limited, and the price per seat may vary. Here was what was available for an older flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to New York-LaGuardia (LGA) about four days before takeoff.

Delta Basic Economy Pick Seat 

In this case, the seats are almost entirely at the back half of the plane. On the bright side, there were plenty of window and aisle seats available. And no matter which you chose in this case, it would cost $29.00.

But if Delta is charging $30 a seat, that's not a good deal. Consider this: Delta typically charges about $70 to $80 more for a main cabin round-trip fare, allowing you to pick your seats for free. 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 like earning SkyMiles and free change and cancellation.

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 have a chance to pick the best of what seats are left. Just how many seats are left will vary wildly by route, time of day, time of year, and other factors. And these days, many flights are completely full which means you may not have the ability to pick, period.

If you're lucky, 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, starting 24 hours before a domestic flight is scheduled to depart. And check again the morning before your flight. And then again. As other passengers move around the cabin or change their flights, better seats may open up.

On a flight a few years ago 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.

delta basic economy pick 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, especially if your flight is full. But it can pay off huge to watch closely and snag a seat.


Other Ways 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.

Delta’s co-branded American Express can be a powerful weapon to beat basic economy fares. There are several options in the suite of SkyMiles credit cards, so read up on which one is right for you. But no matter which one you hold, it will get you a free checked bag on every Delta flight – along with up to eight others traveling on your reservation. The one exception is the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, which won’t get you free bags (terms apply).

That means you won’t have to pay $30 each way for a bag. And Delta doesn’t even require you to charge your flight to your Delta card to get this perk. It’s attached to your SkyMiles number, so you’ll always get it so long as you keep your card open.

And while you can always bring a carry-on bag, Delta basic economy can still be difficult because you board last – the overhead bins may fill up before you get on the plane. Carrying a Delta credit card helps here, too. Delta’s co-branded credit cards also get you priority boarding. By holding one of these cards, you’ll always board in the fifth zone even when flying basic economy.

delta basic economy boarding order 

As an example, let’s consider the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. Like almost every Delta credit card, it gets you a free checked bag plus priority boarding. And it comes with an introductory annual fee of $0, and then just $99 a year after that (see rates & fees).

Do the math, and you'll see that you can come out way ahead in your first year with the card on baggage savings alone. And once that fee kicks in, the savings on checked baggage start after just two round-trip flights each year.

delta gold card

Click Here to learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card. 


Bottom Line

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

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

49 Responses

  • Def. appreciate this one, thanks! I had no idea that you could choose a seat online with Basic Econ after you check in for a Delta flight.

  • I haven’t flown on an airplane in over 20 year’s, what happened to military’s discounts, went to Las Vegas and back, also had to pay $30.00 each way for my luggage

  • I understand having to pay to ensure you can sit with your companion, but if I’m understanding this correctly, even if I fork out an extra 30$ to sit together, I will still be in zone 4 if I have basic economy, correct? (my concern is that they will make me check my carry-on and since I bought two separate tickets, I do not want to have to go to baggage claim to get my bags and go thru security to come back in for my next flight)

  • Booked a flight from ATL to JFK. 72 hours before flight bought a seat as i’m flying with my family and really not so much left to choose. And they make good money on selling those seats, damn should pay for baggage too, next time will consider different airlines to fly with.

  • Yeah, didn’t realize Delta would nickel and dime the seats like this—-next time, I’ll travel with another airline. They clearly see that I have a travel companion, they could have easily programmed us to sit together! This is beyond annoying!!!!

      • Nope, not Finnair, not Icelandair, I’ve experienced! I thonk SAS and Norwegian are quite the same as the otner Nordic countries.

        • Ok, then go fly Finnair and Iceland air… lol. GL with that on any domestic flights outside of those two countries.

          • Actually quite a few airlines let you sit together. Southwest is all open cabin but it works great. Jet blue sells seat gor $11.00, united let’s you get seats and sas is a fojestic aitline, for norwsy lol

          • To avoid basic economy, I save up enough to buy a seat in the comfort class. Since I don’t have a credit card I signed up to join the sky miles. Still trying to build up my sky miles to earn a seat bin first class.

  • So, if I wait until check-in at the airport to get my seats and I have done the 24 hour pre-check to get my tickets, do I still have to pay for my seat(economy seating) assignment?

  • Kinda lame click bait that you take an old post from 2019; slap an updated headline on it and post it as new with new date line. And on top of it link back to the almost duplicate original post within the new copy. I hope you are spending the time you save looking for deals for premium members.

    • Certainly not trying for clickbait, Dave. You’re right this is an older post, but the information is all up to date. And we always hear from travelers frustrated about basic economy, especially when it comes to seat selection. Plenty of readers may have missed this guide when we originally posted it last spring.

      Safe to say we are always looking for more deals to Premium members.

      • That is not true. You are not able to upgrade and choose tickets after purchasing basic economy seats anymore. Thanks pal.

        • If that’s true, it’s a recent change. Even just two weeks ago, nearly all basic economy fares were still able to purchase a seat assignment starting 7 days before departure.

  • I fly to Atlanta to visit my daughter and family by myself. I am a 77-year-old grandma who the airline company always tends to put me between two strangers! Why? I’m flying Down in March and I will try to pick a seat after I check in online. I hope I can figure it out!

  • Middle seats on delta are always left open now. Also, ask the gate agent if you can sit together. If there is room, they will do it.

  • Delta does this for one reason and one reason alone: ancillary fees collected by airlines are not taxed. Only the fare is taxed. So it’s 100% gravy for every person who pays for a seat assignment.

    Oh yes they dress it up as offering “choice” but behind the curtains lurks a pure profit motive. It’s a business. No problem with that but call it what it is…a money grab.

  • I was wondering what the definition of close family friend means when reading the requirement recouerd to enter Austria My life companion lives in Austria and we are in a (LDR)My flight was canceled in april and I was hoping to be able to go this xmas getting up in age time is flying by any info would be so appreciated thankyou Gary

  • I swear I’m gonna start my own blog. Every time I read one, it seems quite clear that intelligence and writing skills aren’t really required.

    This has to be one of the dumbest ones yet. You entitle the article “How You Can Still Pick A Seat With A Delta Basic Economy Fare” and your first “tip” is to PAY for the seat. Seriously? How stupid are you? Or are you writing crap and getting paid for clickbait?

    • As the article says, Delta explicitly warns that you cannot pick a seat, period, when buying a basic economy fare – whether free or paying for it. It’s worth pointing out that you can pay for a seat if it’s important to you, especially considering Delta has never publicly announced that it’s an option. And the second method is a clever trick to get a seat for free.

      Best of luck with your blog.

  • Question for clarification. If you don’t have a seat assigned (pre-paid) the process is as follows? Check-in, get Delta random assigned seat, at that point you have the ability to change seats, do so before you print boarding pass. Correct?

    • Correct! You can typically move to any other remaining open seats from the time you check-in until boarding begins.

  • Any insight on how Delta would handle a group of three (2 adults and a 2.5 year old for a total of 3 seats) in basic economy during COVID times? Given the middle seat blocks, it’d make sense that they’d naturally group us together to maximize seating (effectively gaining a spot on the pane) but should I take the risk?

    • This is tough. You’re right that I think Delta would like to seat you all together to maximize available seating. But Delta would also like you to pay for the “privilege” of getting seated together. If you’re concerned about sitting together, I’d recommend just paying up for the main cabin fare so you can guarantee it.

  • My wife and I fly Delta Economy often, I try to book our seats at the same time, if for some reason that isn’t possible I then contact Delta and link our bookings. Once this is done gate agents have done everything possible to put is in seats next to each other and if not next to each other close. Unlike United which won’t allow any changes, even by a gate agent.

  • I have done the 24 hour/check in pick your seat for years. It’s a gamble, but on short flights not a big deal to me. I have a terrific chance of improving my seat including moving forward in the plane. If you really need to know your seat ahead of time, they are happy to take your money. I like the fun of checking 24 hrs prior. On March 15th, 2020 this paid off big time being “bumped” on British Air to first class from Heathrow to O’Hare. On check in I noticed open seats in front for no fee and did it. Our president had just announced closing of European airports and they filled the back of the 747 with stressed out Americans. I truly lucked out. Having a frequent flyer card is helpful in times like these or maybe just dumb luck. 🙂

  • Anybody at all know if it is possible to pay for an upgrade from Basic Economy to First Class seating, if the seating is available, at the gate or during check-in?
    I don’t know that I can weather a 4 hour flight from Detroit to Phoenix in Basic Economy.

  • I tried the tips here when flying Translatlantic just a couple of months prior to COVID hitting. No 7 day window to “buy” a seat. Seat assigned at BNA for BNA -DTW leg but had to get a seat assigned at DTW gate for leg to Europe. Interestingly, all the basic seat tickets had been printed out in advance, presumably by gate agents, and were sifted through to get the one that matched your passport. Hard to believe that Delta couldn’t assign me seats for all legs of the outward flight at check in at BNA.

    • There seem to be a few times where Delta doesn’t allow seat selection in advance, but those instances are few and far between.

  • Hi Kyle,
    I’m flying Iah-atl-ath soon. For the international flights, check in starts at 48 hours. Is that the atl-ath leg? I’ll have to check in twice? I also bought 2 separate tickets in BE for my bf and I. Trying to figure out the best and cheapest way to sit together

    • If you booked iah-atl-ath as one ticket, you should be able to check in for the entire itinerary at one time. You may be able to pay for seats starting a week before departure, but that’s not always the case with international BE fares.

  • I purchased 2 basic economy tickets for myself and my daughter we are traveling to ATL.
    She is 10 years old. Do you recommend me purchasing two seats or do I just do the 24 hour check in advance and they will assign us seats at the gate?Thank you

    • If you want to ensure you’re sitting next to your daughter, I’d recommend paying for seats. These days, most domestic flights are full which would make it much harder to move around the cabin and get seats together after check-in.

  • It should be first come, first serve. Period. Tickets are not cheap nowadays, and we aught to get our money’s worth. We expect some decency from those we do business with. Yes, those with status should have benefits, but if they want seats, they should act early enough. Those who book early should be at an advantage. Airlines should not hold seats for anyone who MAY decide to fly.

  • Option 1 is not really a choice, Delta doesn’t allow you to pay for seat selection under basic economy. I just flew them in December and that wasn’t an option. How long will you keep recycling this old article?

    • This isn’t true – I just paid for seats with a basic economy fare and the process was as described in this article. The website isn’t the most intuitive (and the seats were expensive!) but it’s definitely an option.

  • This article doesn’t seem to have accurate information anymore. I got the Delta Gold Amex card because of this article and the baggage policy, but seems that if the flight is not ‘operated’ by Delta then it’s a moot point and you have to pay the baggage fees of the operating airline… definitely feels like a scam since I bought my international flight on the Delta website, with my amex card and miles account, only to find out during the 24 hour check in period that due to my flight being operated by air france and klm, that my baggage waiver doesn’t apply here. Go figure! Definitely going to try to fight it when I return, but these airlines and ‘partnerships’ really don’t help the customer in any way… and the blurb is hidden so far in the fine print that when I called Delta the day of my flight to complain, even they were confused and had to go to two different supervisors who said just try to fight it when you get back… ugh!! Definitely canceling this card before my one year mark and the unnecessary annual fee that got me nowhere!

    • This part about KLM and other partners not honoring the AMEx gold is everywhere, and not hidden at all. It was in Kyle’s initial story about this subject. We are in Kona Hawaii and it takes two overnight flights to Europe. We leave on Delta to Seattle and I will check my bag at that time and use the AmEx gold. Coming home however, we will going through their partner KLM where I think it’s not going to work. But I will try. I am canceling my card though after this flight. I don’t wanna pay the $99!

  • Does anyone know how much seat selection is for transatlantic flight to Europe? I contacted Delta’s customer support and they won’t tell me.

  • Not sure it will work with Delta but it has worked for me twice with United economy, traveling internationally. I just call, about a month out. Call and speak to a customer service agent and ask them to assign seats and they always have done it for me! I will try that again before looking at the seat map online.

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