Be prepared to be enlightened.  There is no such thing as a “free” seat.  No matter which airline you travel with be it ultra low cost right through to full service “legacy“ airline you are always paying for your seat.

Now when it comes to pre-flight seat selection, this becomes an entirely different matter.

In those bad old pre-deregulation days (1978 in the USA) before airlines offered complex deep-discounted advance purchase tickets your advance seat selection was included in the full fare ticket price.   In those days airlines competed on service alone as fares were regulated by the government or international agreements through the International Air Transport Association  IATA.

Customers were mainly very affluent in what some refer to as the “golden age of aviation,” where in flight food featured carved chateaubriand on rolling silver carts. Passengers dressed up to travel making flying glamorous and exciting – if you could afford it.  There may have been a few discount fares around but all involved Saturday night stays which enabled the industry to screw the business market for full fares.


Deregulation in the USA affected the industry worldwide and saw the growth of low cost airlines whose pricing models were based on one-way fares.   This killed off many airlines which could not compete on this new playing field.

Over the years airlines have sought for ways to increase revenue in highly competitive market places and the key method now in 2018 is through unbundling and dilution.

Unbundling means paying separately for each aspect of air travel you require that used to be included your ticket price.  The theory is that airlines would reduce their main ticket price but would exclude from that ticket items that once were part of the “all inclusive” ticket.

So now you could have to pay extra for checked bags, carry-on bags, in-flight meals and pre-boarding seat selection.  This can depend on your fare type because some airline’s higher inventory classes will allow “free” seat selection.

But you can bet that if your customer went for the cheapest possible fare, then wanted to pre-book their seats it could end up costing them more than if they went for the higher fare.

The airlines claimed that unbundling means customers only pay for what they use. Unfortunately unbundling also means frustration for many customers who expect better from the airlines.

Blame the internet as the catalyst for unbundling just in the same way that hotels have sneaked in resort fees.  On internet listings of flights (and also hotels) everything is price driven.   For flights you don’t see what you are not getting and what you will probably have to pay extra for. With hotels where the “resort fees” are mandatory it should be illegal for them to list a price that does not include the mandatory fee.

Where your customer has some degree of status in an airline’s frequent flyer scheme then there is a fair chance that they could get free advance seat selection.