Ever wonder what the pros know that you don't? How they get the best seats, save time and money, and avoid hassles? We've queried travel writers, industry insiders, and other ultra-frequent flyers to get their tips, sometimes from things they've learned the hard way--so you don't have to!
It Pays to Be Last
If carry-on luggage isn't a consideration and the flight isn't sold out, one tactic for getting that coveted "extra seat" is to be the last person to board—that way, you can look around to see if there are any empty rows or two empty seats next to each other. If you do have carry-on luggage and you don't want to chance losing space in the overhead bin (or you don't like cutting it that close), try waiting 10 minutes before boarding starts, and politely ask the gate attendant if there are any seats with empty ones next to them. At that point—that close to boarding time—it's unlikely those seats will fill up, and you can move to one of the open ones.
Cut Out the Middleman
If you are flying with someone else and you're able to choose your seats, book one window seat and one aisle seat in the same row. The middle seat is usually the last one people want, so they'll avoid it and you'll have a seat's worth of extra space in which to spread out (because every extra inch of legroom is precious). If your flight is full or nearly full, this probably won't work. But even if someone does claim that middle seat, they'll probably be more than happy to switch to the aisle or window, and you'll be able to sit together.
If waiting for luggage at baggage claim isn't a huge deal to you, consider this tip: You can often ask the gate attendant to check your carry-on, especially if the flight is full or nearly full. If you have checked another bag and will need to go to baggage claim anyway (for instance, on an international flight), then it's one fewer thing to carry around. And you won't have to jockey for space in the bins along with everyone else. (And if you're one of those people who can travel internationally for a couple of weeks with just a carry-on, more power to you!)
Cover Your Tracks
A lot of attention is given to the fact that sites deposit "cookies" on your device that can track your interest in and intention to book a particular flight. Typically, on any given day, you might see the same seat offered at many different price points, and prices can change from minute to minute. There's a question of whether these price changes are a nefarious price-gouging scheme or the result of airline pricing technology. Either way, the pros use a few different browsers, if not devices—laptop, tablet, and phone—to search flights, and then they book through the one that shows the best price. And it never hurts to delete your cookies, just in case. This link will walk you through the process.
Power to the People
Whether you're working on your laptop, reading on your tablet, or playing games on your phone, finding power for your devices is always at a premium, especially on longer flights. Most pros never leave home without an external charging device to carry them through. And here's a genius hack if you have time between connecting flights: Instead of charging your devices one at a time—or worse yet, being that person who hogs multiple outlets at the airport charging station—carry a lightweight power strip with you. And once you're in your destination, a power strip is great to have in hotel rooms that skimp on outlets. We think this one is particularly nifty because its flexible shape means it can pivot for bulky chargers and it can be packed up small.
This one may not be for everyone, but it comes in handy on long-haul flights when you want to get as much sleep as possible before hitting the ground at your destination: Consider ordering one of the airline's "special" meals. These usually include vegetarian, low-sodium, and kosher options, and sometime more. These meals are served (and cleared) first, giving you extra time to slap on the eye mask and catch some z's.
Keep It to Yourself
In-flight theft: Statistically, it's not a flying crime wave, but it's more common than you think. We tend to assume that since we're in a confined space, our possessions are safe. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Valuables, including passports, have been known to disappear from luggage in overhead bins. We know someone whose passport was lifted on the plane and, as a result, he was deported at his destination. You do not want this to happen to you. Keep your passport, wallet, and any other critically valuable items on you at all times. If you have to stash items in a bag under the seat, take the bag with you when you get up to stretch or use the bathroom. If you have valuable items, such as camera equipment, in your carry-on overhead, check on them just before the "fasten seat belt" sign is turned on prior to final descent. That way, in the unlikely event that something has gone missing, you can alert an attendant.
Water, Water Everywhere
We all know that if there's one thing we need to do on a flight, it's stay hydrated. Bring an empty reusable water bottle with you that can be filled at a water fountain once you're past security. If you need more, you can ask the attendant to refill your bottle (never, ever fill it up in the plane's bathroom). And once you've arrived, you'll have a water bottle for the rest of your trip.
Have a few TSA-approved quart-sized plastic baggies stashed in the front pocket of your suitcase or carry-on at all times, so you'll never be caught by surprise without one. Sounds simple, but we've seen people have to surrender their 3-1-1 liquids because they don't have a bag to put them in. Some security lines keep extras on hand for this kind of situation, but not all.
For Crying Out Loud
Kids? We love them. Honest! But that doesn't mean we necessarily want to sit next to them on a plane. One way to reduce the chances you'll be within ear range of an unhappy toddler or uncomfortable infant is to choose a seat at least a couple of rows removed from the bulkhead seats, which are favored by parents with little ones. But bring earplugs just in case. (You're welcome.)