An Exit Row Seat On Virgin America Costs How Much???

I’m a big fan of extra legroom seating. Call it Economy Plus, Main Cabin Select, Economy Comfort, or whatever you want, but those extra few inches really make life in the back of the plane a lot more enjoyable. It’s basically the difference between being able to open your laptop, or not, as Ben recently discovered on his first international economy segment in a decade.

As a Premier 1K with United, I get to select these seats for free at the time of booking, so the website never actually shows me how much they cost. I suppose that causes me to take them for granted somewhat.

Well, I was recently helping a friend figure out the best options for flying between Washington DC and Los Angeles. That’s obviously a big United route, but American and Virgin America also have a few nonstop flights each day. While the base fares are mostly competitive, I was absolutely shocked to see how much Virgin charges for their exit row and bulkhead seats. Like I thought it must be a website glitch.

IAD <> LAX

My friend was looking at flying from Washington Dulles to LA on February 10. United, American, and Virgin all had nonstop flights for $139 all-in. (United also offers additional more expensive flights during midday hours.)

United, American, and Virgin all have the same $139 fare
United, American, and Virgin all had the same $139 one-way fare

My friend is a fairly big guy and frequently pays for extra legroom. So I wanted to compare the options for extended legroom seating across the three carriers.

United Economy Plus

United was offering an exit row aisle for an added $132. It’s worth noting that United has a range of prices for Economy Plus seats — aisles cost more, and exit rows or bulkheads cost more. So this was the most expensive seat in Economy Plus, while a middle could be had for $99.

United Economy Plus for $99-$132
United Economy Plus for $99-$132

American Main Cabin Extra

American wanted $86 for an exit row window seat. In fact, all of their Main Cabin Extra seats appeared to be the same price.

American Main Cabin Extra for $86
American Main Cabin Extra for $86

And Virgin America?

Virgin wanted a whopping $630 for an exit row or bulkhead seat. Heck, for not much more you could upgrade to first class!

Virgin Main Cabin Select Emergency Exit seats for $630
Virgin Main Cabin Select Emergency Exit seats for $630

Now I’ve never flown Virgin and I know nothing about their product so I wondered what you got for your $630. I clicked on the info button and saw that these seats come with free food and drink.

Does this include Dom and Krug?
Does this include Dom and Krug?

I guess if they served Dom and Krug to those in the exit row this could be a good deal. Then again, do you really want to be counting on a guy trying to drink his $630 worth of Krug in the event of an emergency?

Bottom Line

I can’t imagine paying $630 for an exit row seat.

I would expect that those with sufficient status on Virgin can select these seats for free. And maybe these silly prices are just a way to make sure that elites always get those seats? Otherwise, what am I missing? Do people really pay $630 — or in this case 4.5 times the cost of the ticket — for an extended legroom seat?

Now to be fair, it did seem like other dates had slightly more reasonable costs for these seats. On February 17th, for example, the exit row costs “only” an additional $170. Still more than United or American, but in the ballpark. That does make me wonder how they set the prices for these seats, and whether they employ some form of inventory management to dynamically adjust the price based upon how many of these seats are left?

Have you ever sat in the Virgin exit row? Would you pay $630 for one of those seats?

Comments

  1. These aren’t really exit row seats in the traditional sense we think of. The exit row as well as the first row of coach are known as “main cabin select” and are a completely different fare class. So the price you saw probably is the fare difference between the two classes plus a change fee. I’m not saying I or anyone else should pay these prices (I never fly virgin America but their main cabin select fares seem substantially more expensive than what they should be for what you ultimately get) but hopefully that explains part of the pricing rationale.

  2. These are more premium Y than E+. Early boarding, extra bags, unlimited food and drinks, free entertainment. I don’t think it is unreasonable for VX to not have a rock bottom sale on these seats. The price of Y will increase as the flight gets closer and the difference between MC (Y) and MCS (prem Y) will decrease.

    Count your blessing that UA still let’s us lowly 1Ks book months in advance and snag an exit row and doesn’t reserve them for full Y fares or the like.

  3. Virgin has a different model. They market MCS and First at pretty high prices, and then sell off the remaining open seats starting 24 hours out at discounted prices. So for example, DAL to LAX, 24 hours prior, you can usually upgrade to MCS from any economy seat for $70 and to First Class for $200. Elites get access to the upgrades first, including complimentary MCS. MCS is a nice seat, but not worth several hundred dollars (BTW, the bulkhead is much nicer than the exit row). Bottom line, wait for a First Class sale – Great Product and worth it. Or see if there’s any First or MCS open in the 24 hour window.

  4. Main Cabin Select is Virgin’s ‘premium economy’ style seating – extra legroom, free food and drink, free IFE, priority security lines, and priority boarding. Pricing varies depending on demand and the length of the flight. That’s also the only seating that elites can be upgraded to – Virgin doesn’t provide complimentary upgrades to first class regardless of elite status level.

  5. Being a separate fare class, it can vary significantly from being a few bucks more than economy to more expensive than first!

    For extra leg room on the A320s you can also book the “express” exit row. The seats don’t recline but have the same legroom as the MCS seats.

  6. Are you sure those weren’t for full fare Main Cabin Select and not the usual “discount” non-refundable cost? I booked some SFO-EWR MCS at about $350 one way as opposed to the $150ish for Main Cabin.

  7. Ben was on a domestic flight! Transcon, but domestic!

    For a second I thought I missed something and that he really flew in the back for a longhaul!

  8. Marc — I got the wrong link. Meant to link to “Hello, Live From Ehihad Economy”.

    Will fix it.

  9. James — This is just based on what the seat map shows after booking (or potentially booking) the $139 fare. For $630 more, you can sit in the exit row.

  10. Often you can find Main Cabin Select seats pricing out at a lower cost than Main Cabin Select. It all depends on how close to the travel date you are, etc. In addition, if you are in Main Cabin Select, the price of upgrade to First Class gets reduced from $299 to $240. So if you plan to try and upgrade yourself and the difference is less than the $50 difference, you’re better off buying the extra at booking. Also, I am Elevate Gold and you do not get to select Main Cabin Select seats, only Express seats, for free. They will upgrade you for free from MC to MCS if there are seat available X hours before the flight itself, at both Silver and Gold levels. This information is based on my heavily traveled IAD-SFO route.

  11. Well, you can see that 5 of the Main Cabin Select (MCS) seats are already taken with 7 more to sell.
    So I think you’re seeing an combo of plenty of deep discount “normal coach” seats available AND the deep discount MCS seats sold out.

    Folks buying far in advance generally don’t have as much interest in paying more for frills, they want that cheapest ticket. As departure date gets closer, the “normal coach” fare will increase both due to selling out of the lower fare buckets and moving inside the 21/14/7/3 day advance purchase requirements of various lower fares. Thus the price spread will lessen during the same time frame that the folks booking are not as price conscious. Many times I’ve seen the increment to MCS of only $50-100. To me, that’s a good rate.
    Airline pricing dynamics are a little more involved than you’re making them out to be.

    And as already mentioned, Virgin’s MCS is more like a step towards a “premium economy” vs simply a seat with more legroom.

  12. You seem to have completely missed the “UPGRADE” tag for both Main Cabin Select rows as well as the First Class rows. Main Cabin Select is an entirely different fare class, the $630 is not the standard seat select fee that you see labeled as “EXPRESS”. Main Cabin Select at that fare difference was very likely the refundable option as well. Your headline is nothing but click-bait, read the fare rules next time.

  13. @Jared Scott

    I don’t think the headline is clickbait at all. Honestly, I wouldn’t care if virgin america makes their “Main Cabin Select” seats refundable or not. The fact is, this is what they charge if you want a seat with extra legroom. “Express” seats *don’t* have extra legroom, which was the whole point. I guess it’d have been more accurate to say, “Virgin America doesn’t offer extra-legroom seating at all. Instead, they make you buy up to a whole different fare class.”

  14. So how does one shop for this without having to go to each airline site? How long did it take you just to find out the COST (not “price”) of your flights?

  15. I fly Virgin America for probably half of my domestic travel, and I’ve only sat in MCS once (when the rock-bottom economy seats were sold out, making MCS the least expensive option). It’s nice getting unlimited free food and free entertainment, but obviously not worth the upgrade cost. I agree that Virgin is probably blocking those seats to provide upgrade inventory for day-of-travel purchases (or free elite upgrades). Those same-day (cheap) upgrades are a major selling point for them, so I bet they prefer not to have first and MCS sold-out unless they can sell out those seats at very high prices.

  16. Jay — I shopped for it pretty much as it’s described in the post. First I went to Google Flights to see what the fares were. Then I went to AA, UA, and VX in succession to see how much E+ would cost. Yes, that’s a total pain especially given that you have to pretty much click all the way through to the purchase page to see what extended legroom is going to cost. I’m not sure there’s a better way to do it yet.

  17. Travis, I’m a little surprised you (or the team) isn’t aware of VX fare classes! I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar eventually happens to Delta.

    This is one reason I *don’t* fly VX… if extra legroom is all one needs out of what a premium economy product is for domestic travel, then VX isn’t a great deal unless you leverage the T-24 upgrade options, which are often a race unless you’re elite.

  18. I flew VX exit row before, and the legroom definitely is a lifesaver on a transcon. I booked through a third party site without an assigned seat, and was given the exit row with no exit charge at checkin. It’s all luck but might be worth trying to avoid paying several hundred.

  19. I paid $89 to upgrade to Main Cabin Select once (at check-in 24 hours before departure). More leg room, plug, more entertainment options, unlimited food and drink, and helped me earn a bit more miles in a promo.

  20. I recently flew Virgin from Ft Lauderdale to La Guardia. When I booked, main cabin select was $199 extra. Oddly, first class was only $99 extra. Guess which one I chose.

  21. Airlines rank with Congress as far as Im concerned. They continue to gouge passengers for each little thing. I am tired of it and I dont even fly a lot.

  22. some virgin locations are using seatboost which a guy sitting next to me (in first) told me about. sounds great if you can get it to work. i’m gold so bought the upgrade the day before for a relatively low price.

  23. Honestly don’t know how the pricing is set but I booked Main Cabin Select coming home (EWK to SEA via LAX) for an extra $90. That extra $90 which covered both segments got me free checked bag, anything I wanted to eat or drink and I wasn’t charged extra for watching “premium” (movies) TV on the entertainment system. Add in more legroom and I was happy with the fee but if it had been any higher, I likely wouldn’t have paid it.

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