No, there’s not 1 seat left. Don’t believe the airline’s website when booking.

I had to book a ticket from Dallas to New York in October (more on that in another post), and ending up finding a fare I was content with. $144 isn’t bad at all.

So, I did as I usually do and went to the American website to book my flights. Under the flight I wanted, I noticed “1 Seat left,” so I naturally went through the booking process to ticket the reservation, considering the flights worked for me.

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The second flight also had one seat left.

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So, I ticketed the reservation, and everything was all set. Heck, upgrade odds looked fairly decent as well.

Out of curiosity, I went back to the main homepage and looked up the same routing I did before, to be presented with the same flights. Again, “1 Seat left.” What the heck? I thought I was the one to grab the last seat, since prior to purchasing, it also told me that there was one spot remaining. Now, for clarification, this warning is for 1 seat left at that price. It does not mean it is the last seat on the plane.

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Thinking that maybe the system hadn’t updated, I came back an hour later. I refreshed my cache (so the computer wound’t recognize any previously stored website data) and found the EXACT same flights, with “1 Seat left.”


So, in reality, there really wasn’t 1 Seat left. In fact, there was more than one…but it confuses me as to why American would place this warning there if it didn’t hold true.

  • The airlines try to create a sense of urgency. If they tell you there’s only so many places remaining, you’re more likely to book the ticket now, and think later. For a non-refundable ticket, however, that could be a money-loser. Luckily for American flyers, you can hold a reservation and lock-in the price.
  • Traditionally, the “1 Seat left” warning means that it’s the last seat in a certain fare bucket. Theoretically, a number of passengers could have canceled their tickets in the hour I was waiting, and mysteriously all those tickets went back into the same inventory, however I think that is highly unlikely.
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Personally, I wish they’d remove this “warning” if it isn’t going to hold true. I appreciate them letting me know that there’s only so many seats left at that fare, but I also don’t appreciate the fact that if I come back hours later, I encounter the same pricing that I did before — I ticketed the ticket at the time I did so I could be guaranteed that fare…

Have you ever booked a ticket due to a sense of urgency created by the airline? 

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  1. Pam says

    Booking flights for a few freelance workers in April, I had a ticket on hold but the dates changed so I released the hold and searched again. Double the price I’d had on hold, 1 seat left. A month later I had to book a last minute additional person for the same exact flight. It was a week before departure, a trans Atlantic flight, and it cost less than the 1 seat left price a month prior. And of course it also showed 1 seat left.

  2. Matt says

    This very well may be a tactic they use to “create urgency”, but technically speaking the proof provided in this post does not prove that. The web server typically holds its own cache (not the one on your computer) that may or may not get updated properly. Basically, the fact that it still shows “1 seat left” after you’ve already booked the “last seat” could (and I stress could) just be the server remembering from before you booked. Maybe thats on purpose, maybe its not.

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