fbpx

Basic Economy Fares on U.S. Airlines: What You Get, What You Don’t

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For more information check out our Advertising Disclosure.


 

Like it or not, Basic Economy is here to stay.

Airlines launched these no-frills fares to compete with budget carriers like Spirit and Frontier. Whether you’re flying domestically or heading to the Caribbean or Europe, these fares are unavoidable – unless you want to pay extra for the main cabin treatment. Heading to Asia, Africa, Australia or elsewhere? You’re safe from Basic Economy – at least for now.

While the basic economy prices might look good on paper – and you’re still getting a normal economy seat – it’s important to keep in mind these fares come with some restrictions from baggage to boarding. And every airline is a bit different.

Here’s what you need to know about basic economy fares on the major U.S. airlines.

 

Delta Basic Economy

Long a leader within the airline industry – in good ways and bad – Delta started the slide into basic economy by rolling out these no-frills fares way back in 2013. While there’s no question basic economy on Delta has restrictions, it’s more generous than what other airlines offer.

 

  • Baggage: Get a carry-on bag and personal item for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag (or $60 each way to Europe).
  • Seat Selection: Not allowed. Seats are assigned at check-in or at the gate.
  • Boarding: Boards last in Delta’s new boarding order.
  • Earning SkyMiles: Yes.
  • Earning Delta Medallion Status: Yes, basic economy flights earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs) and Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs)
  • Upgrades: Not eligible for complimentary upgrades.
  • Ticket Changes and Cancellation: Not allowed, except for within 24 hours of booking.

 

Basic Economy Fares

 

Want to beat Basic Economy on Delta? By carrying a co-branded credit card like the Delta SkyMiles Gold or Platinum cards from American Express, you’ll get a free checked bag and Sky Priority Boarding. Read up on which Delta co-branded credit card is the right fit for you.

 

American Airlines Basic Economy

American Airlines has been selling basic economy for years, too. But the Dallas-based airline made some changes to its basic economy fares earlier this year. And those changes were a win for travelers

 

  • Baggage: Get a carry-on bag and personal item for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag (or $60 each way to Europe).
  • Seat Selection: Available for a fee, starting at $40. Otherwise, seats are automatically assigned.
  • Boarding: Final boarding group.
  • Earning AAdvantage Miles: Yes.
  • Earning Status: Yes, but you’ll earn half the Elite Qualifying Miles and Elite Qualifying Segments as a standard economy fare.
  • Upgrades: Not eligible for complimentary upgrades.
  • Ticket Changes and Cancellation: Not allowed, except for within 24 hours of booking.

 

Basic Economy Fares

 

Much like with Delta, you can beat American’s basic economy by holding one of their co-branded credit cards. Both the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard and the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Card will get you a free checked bag and preferred boarding.

 

United Airlines Basic Economy

Despite the constant battle for U.S. domination, United’s basic economy fares are a step below both Delta and American. That’s because a basic economy ticket on United means you can only bring a personal item – no carry-on bag – and you also won’t earn elite status on domestic flights.

It’s the perfect reminder that airlines don’t actually want you to buy that cheaper basic economy fare. They’d rather encourage you to pony up for a standard economy ticket. And United tries to do so by being more punitive than the rest.

 

  • Baggage: Get a personal item for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag (or $60 each way to Europe). No carry-ons allowed unless flying to Europe.
  • Seat Selection: Available for a fee, starting at $10. Otherwise, seats are automatically assigned.
  • Boarding: Final boarding group.
  • Earning United MileagePlus Miles: Yes.
  • Earning Status: You’ll earn half the Premier Qualifying Miles and Premier Qualifying Segments as a standard economy fare.
  • Upgrades: Not eligible for complimentary upgrades.
  • Ticket Changes and Cancellation: Not allowed, except for within 24 hours of booking.

 

Basic Economy Fares

 

Just as with Delta and American, you can take the sting out of Basic Economy by holding a co-branded credit card like the United MileagePlus Explorer card. But in this case, remember that you’ll have to pay for your ticket with that card in order to get the free checked bag and priority board.

 

Alaska Airlines Basic Economy

Alaska Airlines is one of the latest airlines to join the basic economy bonanza. The West Coast-based airline began selling its so-called “Saver Fares” in November, for flights beginning in January.

But among the airlines currently selling basic economy tickets, Alaska is the most generous. Take a look.

 

  • Baggage: Get a personal item and carry-on bag for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag.
  • Seat Selection: Available only at the back of the plane; upgrade to a different seat for a fee.
  • Boarding: Final boarding group.
  • Earning Alaska Mileage Plan Miles: Yes.
  • Earning Status: Yes.
  • Upgrades: Not eligible for complimentary upgrades.
  • Ticket Changes and Cancellation: Not allowed, except for within 24 hours of booking.

 

Basic Economy Fares

 

You can get that checked bag for free by holding the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card.

 

jetBlue Basic Economy

It’s not here yet, but it’s coming.

Yes, even jetBlue is rolling out basic economy fares, as it announced last year. It’s still unclear when that will happen, though it seems certain to launch sometime in 2019. Here’s what we know so far based on what jetBlue executives have shared of their plans.

 

  • Baggage: Get a personal item for and carry-on bag for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag.
  • Seat Selection: Likely not allowed; seat will be assigned at check-in or at the gate
  • Boarding: Final boarding group.
  • Earning Miles: Unclear.
  • Earning Status: Unclear.
  • Upgrades: Unclear.
  • Ticket Changes and Cancellation: Likely not allowed, except for within 24 hours of booking.

 

Basic Economy Fares

 

As you can see, many of the specifics of jetBlue’s basic economy are still up in the air. jetBlue is tentatively calling these “Blue Save” fares. Expect to see more details in the coming months.

 

Southwest Airlines Basic Economy

Psych!

Southwest Airlines doesn’t offer basic economy. And the airline’s top executives recently said they never will.

“That’s not what we do,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said during a quarterly earnings call. “We’re not going to charge for bag fees.”

That means Southwest flyers will continue to get two checked bags on every flight. Their novel boarding process means you’ll get to pick your seat – at least the best of what’s left by the time you get on board. And you’ll still be able to change or cancel your reservation without a fee.

 

Bottom Line

Basic economy has shaken up the airfare world. By offering these bare-bones fares, airlines are trying to compete with budget carriers on price while pitting flyers with new restrictions – largely in hopes that they’ll pay up to upgrade.

So it’s important that you know what you’re getting into.

 

Subscribe to our Newsletter, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter & Instagram

 

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

3 Responses

  1. Proud Money says:

    Good article, I like how you showed the contrast between Basic Economy and the next level up. That no-carry-on policy by United is pretty brutal.

  2. Joey says:

    Why anyone would not choose Southwest Airlines for their trip when it’s an option is beyond me. The miles and status are just not worth it anymore and the credit cards are a scam to make you feel like you’re saving money off bag fees. Southwest is SO easy to fly and no fees for anything. Great legroom seat pitch too. Free streaming entertainment. And I’m amazed how easy, quick and efficient it is to board and deplane their flights.

  3. Steve Paulus says:

    I have a co-branded American Airlines card that will get me free checked bags to Europe and priority boarding but doesn’t do anything about seats?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *