Book early. Get your tickets between 30 to 60 days prior to your departure (except if you’re traveling during the holidays). Booking even further out may nab you better seats, though you might miss out on fare sales.
Use seatguru.com’s detailed cabin maps to uncover any idiosyncrasies, such as an unmovable armrest, limited floor space, or a window with an obscured view.
Sign up for alerts if the seats you want aren’t available when you book. Expertflyer.com, an air-travel-planning tool, allows you to create a custom alert to let you know if your preferred seat is freed up.
Look for abandoned seats. Airlines typically begin granting upgrades 100 hours prior to takeoff, and then again at the 48- and 24-hour marks. Check the airline website at these times to find any newly opened spaces in economy.
Spend your miles on upgrades. If your route is on sale, you might squeeze better value out of your miles by paying for the fare and using your points to upgrade to business class, where you’ll also be spared baggage fees and get complimentary food.