Like it or not, Basic Economy fares are here to stay. These fares allow the big three domestic airlines (Delta, American, and United) to compete with budget carriers like Spirit, Frontier, and Sun Country offering no-frills fares.
Whether you’re flying domestically or heading to the Caribbean, Central America or Europe, these fares are unavoidable regardless of which of the three legacy carriers you choose. In fact, the airlines measure the success of their basic economy offering by how many passengers pay to avoid it.
For better or for worse, Delta has long been a leader within the airline industry. Delta started the slide into basic economy by rolling out these no-frills fares way back in 2013.
We’re taking a deeper dive into what’s included and everything you need to know about Delta Basic Economy: what you get, what you don’t, and how to beat these no-frills fares.
What You Get with Delta Basic Economy
While there’s no question Delta basic economy has some tough 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.
How to Beat Delta Basic Economy
Carrying one of the co-branded Delta credit cards offered from American Express helps you beat Delta basic economy fares. This is the key to making these fares less painful.
As a benefit of holding the Gold, Platinum, or Reserve Delta American Express cards, you will receive a free checked bag and priority boarding. And you get these benefits even when flying on a basic economy ticket.
So while flying on a Delta basic economy ticket would normally mean you board last, holding one of these cards allows you to board in the Main Cabin 1 group.
If you don’t hold one of the co-branded cards, finding a spot for your carry-on bag once onboard the aircraft will be a challenge as you will be the last to board. So even though you are allowed a free checked bag, it may end up getting gate checked.
Additionally, all of the cards also offer a free checked bag – a $30 value every flight. That means you could check a bag for free and not worry about a spot for your bag once on the aircraft altogether. You don’t even need to pay for your ticket with the card to receive these benefits. Read up on how this benefit works.
Beat Delta Basic Economy with the American Express Delta Cards
There are three different versions of the Delta SkyMiles American Express cards that offer a free checked bag and priority boarding. Each of them offers different benefits that will appeal to different travelers. Need help deciding which one is right for you? See our post outlining which Delta card is right for you.
Click Here to learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card.
Click Here to learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card.
Click Here to learn more about the Delta Reserve Card from American Express.
What Routes Include Delta Basic Economy Fares?
Right now, Delta Basic Economy has been rolled out on all routes heading to the following locations:
- U.S. Domestic Fares
- Mexico and Central America
- The Caribbean
There is currently no basic economy offering on Delta flights originating out of the US heading to the following locations:
- South America
Any economy ticket you book on these routes will be a main cabin fare including advanced seat assignment, carry-on bag, ticket changes, and subject to upgrades for Medallion members (depending on the destination).
Delta basic economy fares are a mixed bag. There’s both good and bad news.
Let’s start with the good news. For starters, these fares are more generous than what you get with many competitors. You can bring a carry-on bag on board, and your ticket will earn SkyMiles and credits toward Delta Medallion Status just as any normal fare.
Delta also offers two ways to pick a seat even when flying basic economy. Starting seven days before departure, you can log into your reservation and pay for a seat assignment, which typically costs $29 per seat. If you’re feeling lucky, you can wait until the check-in window opens 24 hours departure. Once that happens, Delta allows you to move to any remaining open seats for free. Read our guide to picking your seat when flying Delta basic economy.
Then there’s the bad news. If you strike out with picking a seat, you’ll likely be assigned a middle seat at check in. When traveling with a companion or a child, there’s no guarantee you’ll sit together. While Delta says it tries to seat children with a family member, it won’t always happen. It depends on how full your flight is, and on the agent working at the gate.
We recommend paying the fee to upgrade to a Main Cabin fare if you want to ensure you sit next to your companion.
But above all, Delta basic economy fares are just like every other airline. Airlines act like these are lower-priced fares for budget-conscious travelers. In reality, they’re charging the same amount a main cabin economy ticket once cost and giving you less. It’s the airlines’ way of getting more money out of you in fees.
Basic economy has transformed the airfare world. By offering these bare-bones fares, Delta can compete with budget carriers on price while pitting flyers with new restrictions – largely in hopes that they’ll pay up to upgrade. Basic economy has been extremely profitable for Delta, so don’t expect it to change any time soon.