Basic economy fares have reshaped travel, and they’re unavoidable. Delta is no different.
Delta was the first major U.S. carrier to implement these no-frills fares, which come with no seat assignment, no checked bags, and cannot be changed or canceled.
And while there are some upsides to Delta’s basic economy fares – unlike with United, you can bring on a carry-on for free – it’s mostly bad news. They’re spreading to award tickets booked using SkyMiles, and all the airlines have started charging more to upgrade to a standard economy fare.
But don’t fret, Delta flyers. There are ways you can ease the pain of Delta’s basic economy to pick a seat, get a bag, and still save money.
What You Get with Delta Basic Economy
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: Seats are typically assigned at check-in or at the gate, but you can also pay for seat selection on some flights or pick your own for free after check-in.
- 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. Even if you have Delta Medallion status, you will not be eligible for upgrades.
- Ticket Changes and Cancellation: Not allowed, except for within 24 hours of booking.
Get a Free Bag and Priority Boarding with Delta Credit Cards
Delta’s co-branded American Express can be a powerful weapon to beat basic economy fares.
There are several options in the suite of SkyMiles credit cards, so read up on which one is right for you. But no matter which one you hold, it will get you a free checked bag on every Delta flight – along with up to eight others traveling on your reservation. The one exception is the Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express Card, which won’t get you free bags.
That means you won’t have to pay $30 each way for a bag. And Delta doesn’t even require you to charge your flight to your Delta card to get this perk. It’s attached to your SkyMiles number, so you’ll always get it.
And while you can bring a carry-on bag, Delta basic economy can still be difficult because you board last – the overhead bins may fill up before you get on the plane.
Delta’s co-branded credit cards also get you priority boarding. By holding one of these cards, you’ll always board in the fifth zone even when flying basic economy.
As an example, let’s consider the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card. Like all Delta credit cards, with the exception of the Blue card, it gets you a free checked bag plus priority boarding.
It carries a $99 annual fee, though that’s waived in the first year. And once that fee kicks in, the savings on checked baggage start after just two round-trip flights each year.
Click Here to learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card.
How to Pick a Seat Flying Delta Basic Economy
Of the many restrictions with basic economy fares, this one’s the toughest to swallow.
By the books, you don’t get to pick your seat when flying Delta basic economy. And no one wants to be separated from their travel companion – or jammed between two strangers in the middle seat.
Luckily, there are two workarounds that allow you to pick your seat even with a Delta basic economy fare – and one is free.
Delta doesn’t advertise it, but the airline started allowing basic economy flyers to purchase a seat selection starting roughly seven days before departure until check-in opens. Just log in to Delta.com, manage your trip and choose “Select a Seat.”
The prices for a seat with a basic economy fare seem to start at $10 each way for a middle seat, and up to $30 or more for a window or aisle. That’s not the best deal, but it’s worth considering if you need to sit next to a child or companion.
If you’re more flexible, there’s a chance to snag the seat you want for free. After check-in opens 24 hours before departure, even Delta basic economy flyers can pick any economy seat that’s open.
Just how many seats are left will vary wildly by route, time of day, time of year, etc. Sometimes, you might have a nearly empty cabin to choose from. Other times, the entire cabin may be booked and you’ll be left to get a seat assignment at the gate.
Just be vigilant. As other passengers move around the cabin or cancel flights, better seats may open up. You might be able to get a window or aisle seat for free.
Just as with all airlines, basic economy fares are restrictive. But that doesn’t mean they have to be painful.
With the right tools and knowledge, you can beat Delta basic economy fares and save money in the process. And what’s better than beating an airline at their own game?