A few years ago I started noticing airlines adding “Basic Economy” fares to certain routes. As time passed, all 3 major US airlines have these fares for pretty much for all of their routes.
A Basic economy fare is a fare you purchase for less than a regular economy ticket (usually), (typiclly $50 to $200 less). Airlines started to do this to compete with the very successful budget airlines , Frontier, Spirit, Southwest, etc. These airlines may not be fun to fly, but they are making money hand over fist, and the big 3 (American, United & Delta) noticed! The Big 3 wants a slice of the low cost fare pie ,so to speak, so they started to offer fares that offered pretty much what the discount airlines do, but at a lower price than the regular fares. If you really don’t care about picking seats or any chance of upgrade, etc then these fares are good for you, but if you are elite , and used to certain perks, BEWARE!
Be careful when booking a ticket if you DO NOT want these fares. It seems , finally, the airlines are making it clear when you are booking that a particular fare is a Basic E fare, but who you book on a third party site like Travelocity, etc you may not know for sure, so CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK!
Be very careful when booking these fares, on all 3 airlines, as chances are you WILL NOT be setting together. One person could be in the back in a middle seat, and the other could be up front in a middle or window seat. So keep this in mind!
I will talk about the Big 3’s Basic Economy fares below
Delta is one of the most “generous” with their Basic economy fares. Delta does and always has allowed you to bring a carryon along with your personal item (Purse, laptop bag, etc). Here are some of the basics:
Delta allows you to “purchase” a seat assigment starting 7 days prior to departure. At check-In , which is 24 hours before departure, you can select your seat for free ( what may be left).
You will board in the VERY LAST ZONE ! I am not sure if this is the case if you have status or not. I know AA & United allows to you board with your status group or if you hold a certain branded credit card by that particular airline.
If you have status, you WILL NOT be upgraded, no matter what, period.
Miles / Credit
You will still earn redeemable and qualifying Miles, segment, and dollar credit the same as with any fare.
Below is a chart Delta has to compare all their fares:
Like I said, Delta is pretty much the most generous, and Delta is MY AIRLINE, so I am obviously partial to them. I don’t agree with everything about these fares, but I think they have done a pretty good job at balancing things! Plus, you know even if you are flying a basic E fare on Delta, you know you are flying the BEST, most RELIABLE airline the USA has!
American Airlines was the first airline to announce these fares, although Delta rolled them out first. I used to be an AA person, but not anymore as I felt as if I were flying Basic E all the time even when I wasn’t.
American just recently added the ability to take a carry-on for free in addition to your personal item. Before you could not. This is a plus, and they probably had a lot of blowback and was forced to allow this!
With American Airlines Basic E fares you can BUY a seat section within 48 hours of departure, or one will be AUTO ASSIGNED for you at check in (24 hours before departure). This mean you will get what you get, PERIOD.
You will board with zone 8 or zone 9, depending on where you are flying. From what I understand, if you are elite, or have a certain AA credit card, them you can board earlier.
The same as the others, NO UPGRADES, NO WAY, PERIOD!
Miles / Credit
You will accumulate miles and credit the same as a regular economy fare!
Checked Luggage will be charged, depending on where you’re going .
United offers the LEAST generous Basic E fares, which should come to no-ones surprise. United has , like American, succumbed to negative feedback from their customers, and loosened the boot straps so to speak, a tad. When they first rolled out these fares, you could NOT earn premier qualifying miles (PQM), Now you earn 50%, which is better than nothing, but worse than the others, still!
United used to not allow any purchase, or selection of a seat, but apparently , according to their website , you MAY be able to purchase a seat before boarding, if you are offered the opportunity. Besides this, United has the worst seat assignment scheme for basic E fares. You will be assigned a seat before boarding , and cannot change a seat, PERIOD, even Elites. Furthermore, you cannot buy up to any seat better than economy.
I am a tad confused and I feel United is vague about this, but in general you will board LAST. If you have status, and / or a United credit card you can board earlier , but its not clear to me if you can board like you would normally or just before last.
Again, like the other 2 airlines in this article, you get no upgrades of any kind, no way no how!
Miles / Credit
United rolled back on their ridiculous exception from earning Premier Qualifying miles from ZERO to HALF. This is better than nothing, but worse than the other 2. You also earn HALF PQS (Premier qualifying Segments).
Other than these restrictions, you earn miles the same as you would otherwise.
United is, again, the worse in this aspect. Depending on where you’re flying you cannot bring a carry-on bag PERIOD. Apparently the exception is if you are flying Trans- Atlantic, you can bring the same carry-on allowance as you would in normal economy. If you bring a carryon through security , and get to the gate, you will not only be charged to check your bag, you will be charged an additional $25 (twenty five dollars) as a “gate handling fee”. This seems on par with United’s sense of customer service (eyes rolling).
Checked baggage is the same as regular economy fare, basically you pay unless you have status or a certain United credit card.
With these fares the keep the following things in mind!
- You may be seated in a middle seat
- You may be split up from your party
- You may not be able to bring a carryon
- You will NOT be able to change a ticket
- You may be stranded if your flight is cancelled as many airlines will not accommodate you on a basic E fare , UNLESS the law forces them to.
- You will NOT be able to UPGRADE
- YOU WILL board LAST!
I am not a fan of these fares, as you may have picked up on, but I do “understand” why the airlines are doing it. I am too spoiled and used to my status to fly these, but would MAYBE consider a basic E fare if the flight was VERY short, and, of course, ONLY on Delta!
With this said, basic E fares may be ok with you. You can save money and still get from point A to point B.
Don’t rule these fares out, just keep in mind what you’re getting! ( You get what you pay for) when booking , and always keep your eye out and make sure you know if your booking Basic E or not.
Thanks for reading, and PLEASE, TRAVEL MORE!