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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Good seats will cost you; mark your calendars for Smithsonian Museum Day

Paying up for front-row seats

New fee alert: American Airlines last week announced the launch of its "Express Seats" program, which lets travelers pay extra for the first few rows of coach, including bulkhead seats. If you pay the fee, which ranges from $19 to $39 depending on the length of the flight, you'll also have the privilege of boarding in Group 1.

You can buy the seats through the airport's self-service check-in machines anywhere from 24 hours to 50 minutes before your scheduled flight for travel within the United States, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Passengers with full-fare tickets and those with elite frequent flier status can still snag those front-row seats for free.

The number of seats up for grabs will depend on the size of the plane.

"This is another great product under the Your Choice program that puts more travel choices in customers' hands," said Virasb Vahidi, chief commercial officer for American, in a written statement.

Under the Your Choice program, passengers can already pay $10 per flight for Group 1 boarding.

Jami Counter, senior director of TripAdvisor Flights, said that was a better strategy than paying for an Express Seat.

"You might be sitting toward the back of the plane, but I don't see paying to sit a little further forward, once you strip out the Group 1 boarding, as anything of real value," Counter said. "Chalk this up as one more optional fee, but one that really isn't that good of a value, unless you are able to get a good bulkhead seat."

Airlines are increasingly charging for optional services such as seats with more legroom or priority boarding.

"Overall, the fee to sit closer to the front of the plane seems low-value, but passengers who need to ensure that their carry-on baggage gets on board may be forced to pay it as more and more passengers try to avoid the checked-bag fee," said Matt Daimler, founder of SeatGuru.com.

Travel ticker

Sept. 25 is Smithsonian magazine's sixth annual Museum Day. Download the Museum Day Ticket from www.smithsonian.com/museumday and get into participating museums and cultural institutions nationwide for free. . . . The City of Napa and Arts Council Napa Valley have launched the downtown Napa ARTwalk, a collection of 10 sculptures with the theme "Celebrating the Napa River" that will be on view for one year. Take a self-guided audio tour and cast a vote for your favorite pieces. Info: www.napaartwalk.org .

Reporting: Nancy Trejos.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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