What are “Preferred” seats on Delta and why pay extra to sit there?

Knowledge is power, or so Schoolhouse Rock taught me during my youth.

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While flying home from Charlotte on Delta, I knew that we’d be on an MD-88 aircraft.  I generally don’t mind this type of aircraft for shorter flights because it has a 3-2 seating arrangement. With that, I can choose to sit on the side with two seats and then Sharon can have the window (her favorite) and I can have the aisle (my favorite). Plus we have the bonus of not needing to worry about who will sit in the middle seat. One of the downsides of that plane is the overhead bin on the two seat side is smaller and doesn’t fit many carry-on bags. Everyone has to put their larger bags on the side with three seats, since those are larger bins and those who board later usually have to gate check their bags because all the space has been taken.

I didn’t want to have to gate check a carry-on bag if I didn’t absolutely have to, so I found a way to board the plane with one of the first boarding groups. Here’s how I did it:

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Delta MD-88 seating chart – larger image

As this was a short weekend trip, we only had our roll aboard carry-on bags. On previous trips, we’d found that while these bags were well within the airline’s size restrictions for carry-ons, we were still asked to check them if the overhead bins were all filled. What made us irritated was when we were told that the bins were “all filled” but when we get on the plane there was still plenty of space. We should have been told we needed to gate check out bag because, “we don’t want to waste more time on boarding because we’re graded on leaving on time so we will gate check your bag to speed things up and might end up breaking things in your bag in the process.”

When I originally printed our boarding passes for our flight out of Charlotte, we were in Boarding Group 2. Now that might not sound bad, but according to the Delta boarding chart that is the next to last group getting on the plane. We’re just ahead of people who booked basic economy or the cheapest of the cheap fares. What to do?

Well, one way to ensure that you get earlier boarding with Delta is to have one of their co-brand American Express cards. While we’ve had these cards in the past, I no longer have them because we weren’t flying on Delta very often. When I evaluated the cost, I figured they weren’t worth keeping for the annual fee.

So how else could we board early? Well, let me tell you a story…

When it comes to picking seats, I’m the one who cares if the seat has legroom:

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Knees, may I introduce you to seat

while Sharon doesn’t tend to care so much.

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WHEEEEEEEEE! Legroom galore for Sharon.

This is why I’ll typically ignore the airlines’ attempt to sell me on the larger seats. While I’ll enjoy the room, it would mean I’d have to upgrade both of our seats just for me to have the extra legroom. I can deal with limited legroom because my entire childhood I spent summer vacations cramped in the back seat of a car with a front bench seat and a father who was 6 foot 3. I’ve become an expert in contorting my figure into whatever space is available and my cheapness keeps me from paying for the extra legroom most of the time.

I knew about Delta’s Comfort+ seats that provided increased legroom, dedicated overhead bin space and priority boarding but I didn’t want to pay extra for a flight that was under an hour long. However when I checked in for this flight, I was offered to upgrade to a preferred seat. Not being familiar with this category, I found out that Delta describes these seats as:

Prefer an aisle seat? Looking for extra room in the Exit Row? Select your Preferred Seat ahead of time, with no charge for Medallion® Members.

That didn’t tell me much but it appeared these are the seats behind Comfort+. I’m not a Medallion® Member but for my flight they were offering some of these preferred seats for only $9 each. Now, this was not for the exit row seats, nor did they have any extra legroom; they were just further up in the plane. That wasn’t a selling point for me but the reason I paid the extra $9 was that booking this seat bumped me up to Boarding Group 1. I knew that we’d be able to stow our carry-on bags (on the side of the plane with the larger overhead bins) and we’d also be seated closer to the front of the plane.

It was money well spent. As it turned out, we found space for our carry on bags in the overhead bins when we boarded with Group 1 and sitting closer to the front of the plane came in handy since we had an extremely close connection because of a flight delay due to weather.  The 5 minutes we saved by getting off the plane might have kept us from missing our connecting flight and having to spend the night in Atlanta.

Trust me, I’m not thrilled that I have to pay the airlines so I can board earlier to ensure the carry-on bag I am allowed to bring on the plane with me will not have to be checked at the gate. However, paying $9 to ensure that I will have space in the overhead bins seemed to be a small price to pay. It’s just another case of the airlines base service being so unfriendly to the passengers that you’ll pay extra just to get the same services that used to be included in the price of your ticket.

Would you pay extra to be sure you could bring your bag on board? Would you pay the annual fee for an airlines credit card just so you can get on the plane sooner? Let us know.

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