Delta was the first of the major U.S. airlines to introduce basic economy way back in 2013, launching these no-frills fares that come with fewer perks or benefits in order to compete with budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier, and Sun Country. While every other airline from American to United eventually followed suit, Delta basic economy fares stood out as more generous for years.
No more. Delta has gutted its basic economy fares: You no longer earn any SkyMiles nor credits toward Medallion status – and it was the first (and only) major U.S. carrier to make such a brutal move. As of 2024, you can can't get into a Delta Sky Club if you've got a basic economy ticket. Plus, these basic fares are almost unavoidable: You'll find them flying domestically, heading to the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, Asia, and even on most award tickets booked with SkyMiles.
But it's not all bad news. While you can no longer change or cancel these fares for free, you can pay a fee to cancel for a Delta eCredit. Plus, Delta basic economy fares still allow you to bring a carry-on bag onboard .. and there's even a sneaky way to pick a seat for free when flying Delta basic economy.
Let's take a deeper dive into what's included and everything you need to know about Delta Basic Economy: What you get, what you don't, how it stacks up against Delta's Main Cabin tickets – and most importantly, how to beat these no-frills fares.
What's Included 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 in many respects.
Oh, and keep in mind: While your fare has a different name with some limitations, once you're on board it's the same Delta economy experience as everyone else. Same seat, same service, same in-flight entertainment options.
What is Delta's Basic Economy Baggage Policy?
The Delta Basic Economy baggage policy is almost identical to any standard economy fare: You can stow a carry-on bag overhead and put a personal item under the seat in front of you for free. Flying domestically, you'll pay $30 each way to check a bag – the same as a standard economy fare.
But things change if you're heading far abroad. While most Delta main cabin economy fares to Europe, South America, and beyond include a free checked bag, the airline charges basic economy passengers to check a bag on many long-haul flights. For example, adding a checked bag on a basic economy trip to Europe currently costs $75 each way.
What is Delta's Carry-On Policy?
Unlike several other airlines, flying Basic Economy with Delta allows a carry-on bag and personal item for free.
Delta Basic Economy Seat Selection
Seats are typically assigned at check-in or at the gate, but you can also pay for seat selection on many flights starting seven days before departure or pick your own for free after check-in opens.
Delta Basic Economy Boarding
Boards last in Delta’s boarding order, which means you may struggle to find a spot to stow your carry-on bag.
Earning Delta SkyMiles?
Not anymore. As of December 2021, you no longer earn Delta SkyMiles flying Delta Basic Economy.
Flying isn't the best way to earn Delta SkyMiles anymore – it hasn't been for years. Still, this stings.
Earning Delta Medallion Status?
No, Delta's basic economy flights also no longer earn and Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) – the sole building block for earning Delta Medallion status after a big (and unpopular) revamp to the airline's status program.
Delta Basic Economy Upgrades?
Delta Basic Economy Cancellation and Ticket Changes
Just as with almost any ticket, Delta Basic Economy cancellation is free within 24 hours of booking.
Otherwise, you can pay $99 to cancel a flight within the U.S. or to the Caribbean, Mexico, or Central America. Long-haul international flights cost $199 to cancel for a Delta eCredit.
Delta Main Cabin vs. Basic Economy
Let's get straight to it. The biggest difference is in price – and that's the point.
Like most airlines, Delta practically begs you not to book basic economy: You have to specifically opt-in by checking “Accept Restrictions” and proceed with your basic economy fare. In fact, a top Delta official once wondered aloud: “What are people willing to pay” to avoid basic economy?”
And that shows. While it varies by route, Delta now regularly charges an additional $50 to $80 roundtrip to avoid basic economy and move to a more-inclusive main cabin fare on a simple domestic flight. Traveling internationally? Expect to pay $180 or more roundtrip to avoid these restrictions.
The entire point of basic economy is to lure you in with a cheap price, then convince you to pay more to avoid additional restrictions. And that basic economy vs. main cabin upsell is only getting stronger as Delta loads up these fares with additional restrictions.
Delta's Big, Bad Changes to Basic Economy
In December 2021, Delta went where no other major airline has gone: Its basic economy fares no longer earn Delta SkyMiles nor credits toward earning Delta Medallion status. While some airlines stop flyers who buy their cheapest tickets from earning status, Delta is the first to deny them redeemable SkyMiles.
Previously, you'd earn at least 5x SkyMiles per dollar spent on your Delta basic economy ticket. Now, you'll earn zero SkyMiles on the exact same fares. So while taking a $300 flight would have earned you at least 1,500 SkyMiles, you don't get a single mile now.
Is Basic Economy on Delta Still Good?
If there's an upside to Delta basic economy, it's that these fares still aren't as restrictive as their competitors in other respects.
While you don't get free seat selection with basic economy, Delta gives you a few ways to ensure you won't get stuck in a random middle seat. For starters, you can pay for a seat assignment starting seven days before departure when flying basic economy, with fees that typically run about $29 a seat. And as you'll see, there's even a sneaky way to get a seat for free…
Delta also threw travelers who book basic economy a bone when it comes to canceling flights. These fares could not be changed nor canceled, period, prior to the pandemic. Now, basic economy tickets can be canceled for a fee of $99 to $199, depending on where you're going. You'll get a Delta eCredit for the leftover amount after subtracting the cancellation fee.
That's a far cry from the days of free change and cancellation even on basic economy fares from the pandemic, but it's better than nothing.
What Routes Have Delta Basic Economy Fares?
Delta Basic Economy can now be found on all routes heading to the following locations:
- U.S. domestic flights, including Alaska and Hawaii
- Mexico and Central America
- The Caribbean
- South America
That's right: Almost every route in Delta's vast international network now features basic economy. That doesn't mean you'll always see basic economy fares on every single flight – Delta and other airlines sometimes decide not to sell these fares. But it's a strong possibility.
On the plus side, Delta gives basic economy fares one free checked bag on some of its longest routes to Asia and Australia. That's not the case if you buy a Delta basic economy fare to Europe or South America, for example.
Finally, Delta is an oddity in one way: Delta is still the only major carrier currently selling basic economy award tickets. Delta basic economy awards first cropped up many years ago but have only recently expanded to many long-haul international routes in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and even Australia and New Zealand.
That means the lowest rate for using SkyMiles to book your flight will be for a basic economy ticket, unlike award tickets on most airlines which are for main cabin fares.
How to Beat Delta Basic Economy
Even the most restrictive basic economy fares don't have to be so painful. And there are a few great ways to get ahead even with Delta's cheapest fares.
Carry a Delta Credit Card
Carrying one of the co-branded Delta credit cards offered by American Express helps you beat Delta basic economy fares. This is the key to making these fares less painful.
As a benefit of holding one of the Delta American Express cards (with the exception of the *delta blue*), you will get a free checked bag and priority boarding. And you get these benefits even when flying on a basic economy ticket … even if you didn't pay for your Delta ticket with that card!
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.
Without early boarding, finding a spot for your carry-on bag once onboard the aircraft could be a challenge as you will be the last to board. So even though you are allowed a free carry-on, it may end up getting gate-checked. There's less cause for concern when you can board in the Main Cabin 1 zone.
Additionally, all of the cards also offer a free checked bag – at least a $30 value each way, every flight. That means you could check a bag for free and not worry about stowing it overhead at all. You also don't even need to pay for your ticket with the card to receive these benefits.
For example, the *delta skymiles gold card* has an introductory annual fee of $0, and then just $150 each year after that (see rates & fees.) Even in your second year with the card, it takes just three roundtrip flights with a checked bag each year to come out ahead.
Pick a Seat Assignment for Free
Like most airlines, Delta gives you the chance to pay for a seat assignment if you want to avoid that dreaded middle seat. We've seen Delta Basic Economy seat assignments on domestic flights as cheap as $19 each way – or as much as $59.
But there's another, little-known way to potentially get a seat for free with Delta Basic Economy.
Starting when the check-in window opens 24 hours before your flight, Delta allows you to move about the cabin to any open seats … at no cost. That's your chance to check the seat map and pick the best of whatever seats are left.
This isn't a slam dunk by any means. If your flight is full, you'll be stuck with whatever seat Delta assigns you. But it's worth checking, double-checking, triple-checking, and quadruple-checking after the check-in window opens to see if you can snag a better seat as your flight draws closer. You can change your seat selection up until boarding begins.
Read our guide to picking your seat when flying Delta basic economy.
How Do Delta Basic Economy Fares Stack Up?
Delta basic economy fares are a mixed bag. There's both good and bad news.
Let's start with the good news. Once you get on the plane, the experience is identical whether you've got a basic fare or a main cabin ticket. These fares are more generous than what you get with other competitors in several respects, too.
You can bring a carry-on bag on board. 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 before departure. Once that happens, Delta allows you to move to any remaining open seats for free.
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.
Finally, Delta has degraded basic economy more than any airline by removing the ability to earn SkyMiles or towards elite status. That's a massive, unprecedented change that automatically makes Delta basic more restrictive than any of its peers.
That's why we recommend you consider paying the upcharge for a main cabin fare if you want the best experience: Earning miles, ensuring you can sit next to a companion, and getting the ability to change or cancel your flights without a penalty.
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.
Delta's Basic Economy: The Bottom Line
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 isn't going away. And as we've seen recently from Delta, it's going to continue to expand … and likely get worse.