How to Beat Delta Basic Economy Fares - Thrifty Traveler
Beat Delta Basic Economy

How to Beat Delta Basic Economy Fares

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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.


Beat Delta Basic Economy


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.


Beat Delta 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 fareand 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, manage your trip and choose “Select a Seat.”


Beat Delta Basic Economy


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. 


Beat Delta Basic Economy


Bottom Line

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?


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

30 Responses

  • Thanks for this! Just wondering, if I use a Delta branded credit card, will all the tickets purchased be eligible for Zone 1 boarding? Thanks!

  • “Seat assignment at check-in or more likely assigned at the gate” – Do they attempt to keep bookings together if they can? Can we change the seats they give us if there are open seats?

    I have a flight MSP-DEN booked for 6 people at the end of April on my Platinum Delta Skymiles card. While we’re all adults and it doesn’t matter if we are together, we’d obviously prefer to be.

  • If I already booked via Chase UR weeks ago and now have the platinum card, do you know if we still get priority boarding?

  • I already booked via Chase UR weeks ago and now have the platinum card, do you know if we still get priority boarding? Anything I need to do now?

    • You don’t need to book the reservation with the card to receive the benefits. As long as you have activated your new card and it is associated with your SkyMiles number, you will receive priority boarding on your upcoming reservations.

  • Can you pay to upgrade to comfort+ or even first class? Someone else purchased the tickets and now I’d like to upgrade them.

    • Good point, Laurie. We’ve updated the post to note that the Blue card is the one exception to free checked baggage.

  • Not true according to the benefits page on my Amex account. It clearly says “when booked with the card”.

    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.

  • I’m not sure if this is a work around but I booked a flight from JFK to DEN and wanted to use my free companion ticket that’s included with my Delta AMEX. When I searched for one, there were no seats available for the flights I wanted. I called and was not only able to get the flights but also seat assignments for both tickets without paying more. Might be worth a phone call to purchase instead of their website if seat assignments are a priority to you.

  • First sentence: As a benefit of Card Membership, you can check your first bag free on Delta flights *booked with your Card*.

    • Despite all the wording that you found, Delta confirmed to me that you DO NOT need to pay for your flight with the Delta Amex card to get a free bag. Not sure why they’re saying otherwise.

      • Does include priority boarding as well? I’m looking to book a Delta flight via UR and have debated paying with the Gold card for the priority boarding and free checked bags, but this would seem I don’t have to do that.

        • So long as your SkyMiles number is attached to your reservation, you will get the free bag and priority boarding regardless of how you pay!

  • Thanks! I wish I could see it in writing on a Delta page so I wouldn’t have to argue with a CSR at checkin (and probably lose!).

    • Trust me, I feel your pain. However, you should be able to add a checked bag well ahead of time during booking or by managing your reservation. And since your card is already attached to your account, it should process as free.

  • Thanks for the 7 day out tip. After booking and doing a little research I realized that Delta may not seat our kids with us. Didn’t realize our flights didn’t have two ‘bad’ seats together. Hoping it works in January.

  • I am going to use my accrued miles to reserve a Delta flight for my husband and I. If we pay the taxes with hubby’s Delta Gold Am Ex card, will we still get the free checked luggage and priority boarding?
    Thank you!

    • Your husband would get free checked luggage. If you have your own Delta Gold Amex Card, you will as well. If you do not, you may want to consider having your husband book the tickets instead, if he has the miles to do so – that way both of you would get free luggage and priority boarding.

  • I’m wondering if Delta seats children with a parent, on an international flight, with the basic fare?

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