Understanding Basic Economy Airfares. All three of the legacy airlines (American, Delta and United) are now selling Basic Economy fares. As a fairly frequent traveler I decided I needed to understand these fares. Here’s what I’ve learned.
We all strive to save money but sometimes the savings aren’t worth it. Buying a Basic Economy Fare may be one of those cases. Only you can decide based on your situation but here’s the deal.
What is a Basic Economy Fare
When you purchase a Basic Economy fare you’re getting the same physical economy seat at the same lowest fare you would have paid previously but with many restrictions. These restrictions are so unappealing that you may want to consider paying extra to avoid them. The price differential can range from $20-$50 or more.
Basic Economy fares are intended to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier. Southwest, Alaska, JetBlue and Virgin do not offer Basic Economy fares.
Understand what you’re buying
Below is a summary of all three legacy airlines basic economy fares. This assumes you have no airline status. Depending on which airline you’re flying, if you have status, you may get additional benefits which are enumerated in the terms and conditions for each airlines Basic Economy fare. Always read the fine print before purchasing a ticket.
Basic Economy Fare Terms and Conditions
Basic economy fare restrictions:
- Use it or lose it. No flight changes or refunds. If you purchase a $400 ticket and need to make a change with regular economy you would “pay” the $200 change fee and have $200 of residual value left to apply to a new ticket. With Basic Economy you lose the whole $400.
- No same day changes or flying standby. Even if the flight before or after yours has seats available you can’t get on.
- No seat assignments when you purchase your ticket; seat assignments at check-in. One of the key ways to avoid getting bumped from a flight is to get a seat assignment when you purchase your ticket and to check-in 24 hours in advance.
- American allows you to buy a seat assignment 48 hours before travel.
- United does not allow you to check-in online 24 hours in advance unless you are checking a bag.
- At the minimum you’ll be stuck in a middle seat at the back of the plane. At worst you also run the risk of getting bumped from your flight if it’s oversold.
- Customers traveling in a group, including families, will not be able to sit together.
- Bottom of the list for automatic re-accommodation on another flight with your carrier. This means that if there is a problem with your flight the airline will re-book everyone else first. With planes flying full you may be extremely delayed in getting to your destination.
- No re-accommodation on other airlines if your flight has a mechanical problem.
- Last group to board.
- No full sized carry on allowed; only a personal item. No use of overhead bin on American or United. Maximum size carry on:
- American is 18 x 14 x 8 in. and United 9 x 10 x 17 in.
- Delta allows full-size carry on 22 x 14 x 9 in. and you can use the overhead bin. However if you’re boarding last there will be no place to put it.
- Fees for checked bags start at $25. If you check at the gate you will be charged an additional $25.
- No upgrades.
- Rules vary for mileage credits earned with Basic Economy fares depending on the airline and whether you already have status.
Do the math when pricing tickets
The following Basic Economy fare is $32 cheaper than Economy but you have to pay $50 to check your carry on ($25 each way) plus you are subject to all the other restrictions.
Watch out when booking on OTA’s Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity
When you book Basic Economy directly with the airlines a box pops up warning you that you are buying Basic Economy. With OTA’s travel agencies) you have to look closely before you click.
Watch out when shopping fares on Google flights and ITA Farematrix
Google flights doesn’t have a Basic Economy category so the lowest economy fares shown can be Basic Economy but that isn’t indicated anywhere.
The same goes for ITA Farematrix. You need to know the airlines fare codes to know what fare they’re pulling up.
Where Basic Economy fares might work
- If you’re traveling solo.
- On short-haul flights when you’re traveling with luggage you can fit underneath the seat in front of you.
- If you’re used to paying to check your luggage.
- You don’t care when you arrive at your destination.
- You don’t care about earning frequent flyer miles.