The Lowdown on Basic Economy Fares

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American Airlines has recently joined Delta and United in offering a new type of low-cost, no-frills fare. While there are similarities between Basic Economy offerings, there are differences too. All of the minute details can be overwhelming, so we spoke to business travel expert Road Warriorette to get some clarity.

What are Basic Economy fares?

Three of the four largest airlines in the US have introduced no-frill fares called Basic Economy. Delta has had these fares available for several years, United announced them last year and introduced the option for at the beginning of 2017, and American will start selling them in February. They all have a few things in common: your seat is assigned at check-in, you can’t use upgrades to first class or premium economy, no flight changes and refunds are not available. Additionally, travelers using these fares board last unless they have status. 

Once you are in your seat, you receive the same benefits as other passengers, including snacks, wifi, and in-flight entertainment.

Will I still get points?

All three airlines award points for Basic Economy fares. One major difference is that while Delta and American travelers will still earn some elite qualifying miles or segments, United passengers will not.

Can I carry-on my suitcase?

With American and United, Basic Economy travelers are restricted to a small carry-on that will fit under the seat in front of them and will not have access to the overhead bins. If passengers arrive at the gate with a larger suitcase they will be charged the checked-bag fee as well as a $25 handling fee. This is not the case for passengers with elite status.

Delta Basic Economy passengers are not restricted this way, although boarding last they may not find overhead bin room readily available.

What if I’m traveling with others?

Seats are assigned at check-in or later, and it is very unlikely that groups will be seated together. Families traveling together are encouraged to purchase a different type of fare.

Does my status matter?

For all three airlines, customers with elite status get to retain some of their privileges including priority boarding. In addition, American and United will allow passengers with status to bring a full-sized carry-on onboard.

However, additional benefits such as complimentary upgrades, access to premium or advance seat selection are not available on any of the airlines.

Are these fares worth it?

If sitting in an aisle or window is very important to you, or if you are hoping to upgrade to first or business class, Basic Economy fares are not a good choice for you. If you are traveling on American or United, don’t have status, and need to bring a larger suitcase, it’s not worth it. If you are traveling in a group and need to be seated together, choose a different fare. However, if you are traveling alone, don’t mind sitting in the middle seat, have a small carry-on and, will not need to change your itinerary these fares are a good opportunity to get a lower price.


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