How to Get a More Comfortable Flight without Breaking the Bank

PHOTO: A woman sleeps in an airplane.

Let me ask you a question: How much would you pay for a more comfortable flight experience? You might be surprised how little it can cost or that some cool perks are free.

Traveling with children? Trained, in-flight nannies cost nothing on United Arab Emirates carrier Etihad. Of course its cheapest fall fare from New York to Abu Dhabi sets you back about $1,200 so it might not be an excursion for the kiddies.

But there are seven other ways to save on comfort, both in the air and at the airport, every time you fly.

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1. Play the odds for roomier seats

According to RouteHappy, "13 percent of U.S. flights have roomier seats in regular economy" that you don't pay extra for. As for the roomy factor, it's all about the seat pitch or number of inches between the back of the seat in front of you and the back of your seat. A standard pitch is 31 inches while roomy seats are 32 inches. Can a single inch make a difference? Absolutely.

No need to gamble if you fly JetBlue or Virgin America since all their economy seats on all their flights have at least a 32-inch pitch. Ultra-discount carrier Spirit, meanwhile, has some of the snuggest economy sections around with a seat pitch of 28 inches.

Must you sacrifice seat room for serious savings? No. A fall fare on Spirit from New York to Ft. Lauderdale costs $210 round-trip while JetBlue charges $227. But wait. Spirit charges for both checked-bags and carry-ons (both are free on JetBlue) so if you bring any luggage at all, JetBlue's roomier seats are cheaper. At least on this particular flight.

2. Pay a little for a better seat

Don't assume comfort is always costly. Couple of examples of upgraded seat fees:

• American Airlines' "preferred seats" start at just $4 • Delta Air Lines "economy comfort" seat is priced from $9

A little extra comfort for the price of an inflight cocktail or two? I'd do it.

3. Bargain for better seats

Last-minute, discreet bargaining for better seats does occur when business class seats go unfilled and here's your chance to put your miles status to good use, if only by mentioning. But first, start with your virtual gate agent, the kiosk, even if you already have your boarding pass (or it's on your smartphone). The kiosk may try to sell you better seats but if the offer isn't good enough, move along to the gate agent. Sometimes they'll negotiate, but if you don't like their price, walk away. Then come back closer to departure time when the agent may be desperate to dump seats. Go ahead and try this even if you don't have status. You've got nothing to lose.

4. Board early

Worst thing about flying? A surprising number of people cite the boarding process which is often tedious, usually messy and always way too long. Worst of all, there's the dreaded bin space shortage, and if you're among the last third to board, you might not get any. Which explains why more and more are sucking it up and shelling out for early boarding fees.

But you don't always have to pay: Earn status in a miles program and move to the head of the line. If you don't fly a lot, get an airline-branded credit card because many of these include priority boarding along with other perks like free checked-bags.

5. Join the club

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