How the new Basic Economy Fares differ

By |January 20th, 2017|@MagazineOnline, Airline Seating, Airlines, Destinations, Region - Asia / Pacific, Region - North America, Safe Journey, Travel, Travel Tips|Comments Off on How the new Basic Economy Fares differ
When You Shouldn’t Be Scared of Basic Economy Fares

Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines

You’ve heard about them. You’ve read about them. They’re kind of scary, but they’re here to stay. Basic Economy fares. This week, American Airlines became the last of the Big Three U.S. airlines to adopt basic economy fares, after Delta and United. Let’s have a look at what these fares mean for you, and compare what each airline is doing with these new fares.


Being the most recent airline to implement Basic Economy, let’s look at what American’s guidelines for Basic Economy. You get the lowest available ticket price. Seats are assigned at check-in, though you can purchase a seat assignment 48 hours before departure. You’re only allowed to bring one bag on board, which has to be small enough to fit under your seat. Normal checked bag fees apply, and it you decide to take your bag all the way to the gate then check it, you’ll pay an extra $25. However, if you’re an elite AAdvantage member, you’ll still be allowed the normal free carryon and checked bag allowance per your status tier. Price-wise, this could be highly beneficial to members with status, though the Basic Economy ticket will only get you half credits toward upgrading your status.

In addition, you’ll be in the last boarding group, which isn’t too big a deal, since you won’t be fighting for overhead bin space. In addition, you won’t be allowed to change your reservation the day of the flight. American says “use it or lose it.”


Like American, United’s Basic Economy passengers will not be allowed to bring any baggage on board to store in the overhead bins. United is a bit more strict with their seat assignments, saying groups or families will not be seated together. American says they will check for families traveling with children under 13, and will attempt to sit each child with an adult as seats are assigned. No advanced or same-day flight changes are allowed and you’ll be in the last boarding group with United as well.

United also does not give their Mileage Plus elite members any credit toward qualifying for Premier status. Once again, American wins by giving half credit.


Delta was the first “Legacy Airline” to implement Basic Economy fares. Delta is by far the most generous with theirs, as you’re still allowed a normally-sized carryon bag for the overhead bin. You can also still reserve an assigned seat at check-in time, and you still get your elite qualifying credit, but no changes can be made to your reservation.

These so-called Basic fares originated with a niche group of airlines known as ULCCs, or Ultra Low-Cost Carriers. This group includes Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit, who are known for nickle-and-diming their passengers. This cost model has proven to be very profitable, though it can also be highly frustrating for passengers who don’t take the time to know what they’re really buying before confirming their purchase.

As a traveler with no particular allegiance to a loyalty program, basic economy fares seem like a great option, because even if I had to pay $25 for a checked bag, I’m still coming out with more money left in my wallet. Delta would be my first choice, because I’m a big fan of being able to choose my seat, and their free carryon bag makes it a no-brainer.