How I Scored United E+ for Free Today

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Today I continued my three week journey of intense travel (at least intense compared to what I am used to).  This time I was headed to LaGuardia and my trip got a little more comfortable when an old favorite Continental “trick” of mine landed me a free United E+ seat. I say “trick” as it isn’t really a trick, it is just a matter of being strategic about seat selection when you check-in for your flight.

Once upon a time in the days before the Continental and United merger, I would almost exclusively fly on Continental.  Since I haven’t had elite status in years due to redeeming miles more than buying tickets, I am not able to reserve seats in the “reserved for elites” section of the plane when I book a ticket.  Historically on Continental the first several rows of “reserved for elites” economy didn’t have extra legroom the way E+ seats do, but I still preferred to sit as close to the front of the plane as possible.

What I used to do was book the best seat I could when I initially reserved my ticket, and then once the check-in window opens at 24 hours before departure, I would move up to the reserved section of the plane.  At the 24 hour mark, those seats opened up for anyone to select.  There would often be some good seats available in that section as elites would get upgraded to first class.

However, once the merger came along and E+ seats started moving onto the old Continental fleet, that “trick” started to become outdated and not as useful as it once was.  The first several rows of economy on planes that have E+ seats are not available to non-elites at check-in unless you are willing to pull out your credit card and pay some extra cash. E+ seats are great, but I am not always willing to pay for extra legroom when it is just me flying.  When I went to check-in for my Houston to LaGuardia United flight yesterday I noticed that the plane did not have E+ seating, so I was able to move up from row 30 to row 15 in the reserved section toward the front of the plane.

I was happy with that move, but I got a lot happier when I went back today to check on my seat and saw that 15A was now an E+ seat.  I don’t know if there was an aircraft swap or exactly what happened, but from the time I checked in yesterday until I double-checked today, the seat I moved to for free went from a normal economy seat to an E+ seat that would have probably cost about $60 if I had purchased it the traditional way.

It got even better when I was on the flight and no one was seated in the two seats next to me.  By being a bit obsessive about always changing my seat to the best available (free) seat on the plane at check-in, I got lucky today and scored not only a free E+ seat, but an entire E+ row to myself. Not too shabby.  I’m sure I won’t be this lucky very often, but it it certainly worked out well today.  Have you been able to do something similar either on United or another airline?


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  1. I fly Delta more often but I was compelled to say DL’s Economy Comfort pails in comparison to UA’s Economy +!!!

  2. Miraculously, it happened to me on a USAir flight from DCA to CLT. I checked in at the 24-hr mark and moved my seat to the exit row – window where there is no window seat in the row in front of you. And like you, for some reason that seat didn’t “charge” for an upgrade. Then it ended up having both rows empty (4 empty seats) and I was stretched out by the emergency exit. (about 3 feet of legroom)? #Winning

  3. I fly United every week and 90% of the time I can snatch a E+ seat for free the same way you did. I check the website 24 hours before the flight. If there aren’t any seats available, I call and ask for a seat near the front of the plane. I’ve never had to pay for the E+ with this request.

  4. Once, I checked in my Asiana flights online 12 hours prior to departure and to my big surprise, a business seat there opened for grab. So I grabbed it and instantly get upgraded for free. I feel very good when I was able to turn left when boarding that 747, LOL!

  5. Maybe off topic, but with Delta you cannot snag “preferred” seats at the 24-hour mark, neither before nor after they introduced Economy+.

  6. Glad to hear this “trick” works for others as well! M, you are correct that it does not work with every airline for sure. More and more are blocking out “preferred” seats and leaving them that way even at T-24.

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