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Nine Ways to Score a More Comfortable Airline Seat

Just about every traveler knows that, on most lines, todayÃ?’s coach class is a really, really bad product. While most travelers seem to be willing to put up with economy service on short trips, a long-haul trip in coach is about as appealing as a root canal.

For obvious reasons, then, most business travelers plan their flights with at least some focus on the possibility of escaping the coach cattle car. In the new website, due out in November, Ed Perkins details 16 ways to score a more comfortable seat. HereÃ?’s a sampling of the suggestions:

Buy up

Buy a business- or first-class ticket on a legacy line: ItÃ?’s the only surefire way to insure a comfortable seat on virtually any important route, domestic or international. But the budget hit is apt to be substantialÃ?—up to 10 times what you might pay for a coach ticket.

Buy a first- or business-class ticket on a low-fare line: A few domestic low-fare airlines sell business- or first-class tickets for a fraction of what the legacy lines charge (or would charge, absent the competition). Currently, AirTran, America West, Spirit, and Sun Country offer (relatively) low-fare business- or first-class options, and ATA will add business-class cabins by the end of the year.

Learn about premium service

United’s new ‘PS’ seating: New beginning or last gasp?

Buy a premium economy ticket: A few foreign-based airlines offer a premium economy option on transatlantic and transpacific flights. Although premium economy is by no means as opulent as international business class, itÃ?’s good enough to qualify as “comfortable” even in a full plane. Also, look out for United’s new premium “p.s.” service, debuting on select transcontinental routes this fall.

Buy smart

Buy a ticket for a good coach seat: No, “good coach seat” isnÃ?’t an oxymoron; one small domestic line, Midwest, offers them on flights designated “Signature Service.” Seating in DC9s and 717s is four-abreast, and legroomÃ?—while a bit tightÃ?—is better than what you would find in most other coach cabins.

Buy a coach ticket with an automatic upgrade: Some legacy lines, such as Continental and Northwest, offer no-cost, confirmed upgrades on higher-priced domestic coach tickets. In most cases, those upgrades are confined to connecting routes through the linesÃ?’ major hubs.

Buy two coach tickets: Often, the cheapest way to assure lots of room is to buy two coach tickets. If your itinerary qualifies for a very low Ã?”saleÃ?” fare, two tickets at that price may well cost far less than any other upgrade approach. The numbers work out even better for two travelers on the same itinerary who can share one empty seat between them.

Buy with miles

Use a frequent flyer status upgrade: The frequent flyer programs of all the legacy linesÃ?—plus Alaska and America WestÃ?—provide for upgrades that depend on your status in the program. Although details vary, the general principle of all programs is similar: Top-level frequent flyers get unlimited free or inexpensive upgrades on all coach tickets, while upgrades for mid-level frequent flyers are limited by some combination of their status in the frequent flyer hierarchy and what they pay for their coach ticket.

Upgrade a coach ticket with frequent flyer miles: The legacy linesÃ?—plus Alaska and America WestÃ?—all provide upgrades that can be purchased with frequent flyer miles. Typically, you need twice as many miles to upgrade a cheap coach ticket as to upgrade one of the two or three most expensive categories. And, some lines donÃ?’t permit upgrades to some of the cheapest coach tickets at all or, like Continental, charge fees up to several hundred dollars to do so.

Get a “free” business- or first-class frequent flyer ticket: Almost all lines with full-featured frequent flyer programs provide for “free” seats in business class, first class, or both. Mileage requirements are usually around double the miles needed for award seats in coach.

Caution: No matter how exalted your status, all frequent flyer upgrade strategies suffer from very limited availability of first- and business-class seats.

For a more in-depth look at how to get the most comfort out of your air travel, you can read Ed Perkins’ complete special report on upgrades, which will be live on his website,, in early November.

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