Both Delta and American Airlines recently began selling basic economy fares on some flights to South America, the latest region to which airlines are selling these no-frills fares disguised as a good deal.
From Colombia down to Argentina, South America had long been safe from the spread of basic economy. These fares typically come without seat selection, the ability to change or cancel, and in some cases, even a carry-on bag. Worse yet, airlines have started charging more to upgrade out of basic economy.
It might seem like a good deal: basic economy tickets look cheaper, after all. But in reality, basic economy ticket prices have taken the place of main cabin fares, which go up. You’re paying the same as you used to and getting less.
The spread of basic economy was rapid, from nearly all domestic flights within the U.S. to flights to Mexico and the Caribbean and eventually transatlantic flights to Europe, too. And now it's spreading more.
The Points Guy first reported that American had begun offering basic economy fares to some South American cities this week. But it turns out that Delta is also selling these no-frills fares on many long flights to South America. That includes flights as far as Santiago de Chile (SCL) and Buenos Aires (EZE), according to our searches.
A Delta spokeswoman confirmed it had begun selling basic economy fares to Latin America – as well as expanding Basic Economy SkyMiles awards. United has not yet begun selling basic economy to South America, according to our searches.
Not every flight to South America will have basic economy fares – it varies widely by airline and which city you're heading to. For example, The Points Guy reports that American is only selling basic economy on flights to Lima (LIM) and Santiago de Chile (SCL).
With Delta, it appears far more widespread. We've seen basic economy flights to many of the major cities including Bogota (BOG), Quito (UIO), Santiago de Chile (SCL), Buenos Aires (EZE), and others. As of now, there are no basic economy fares to Brazillian cities like Sao Paulo (GRU) or Rio de Janeiro (GIG).
What this Means for You
It was only a matter of time. Basic economy is spreading, and it won't stop.
As basic economy spread like wildfire elsewhere, South America was safe due in large part to the lack of major competition from low-cost airlines flying from between the U.S. and South America.
That has started to change. But also, basic economy has also proven to be a major money-maker for airlines. These punitive fares aren't meant to actually offer passengers a lower price, but to make more money by convincing travelers to pay more for what they once got for free. Airlines measure the success of basic economy by how many people pay to avoid it.
While United hasn't yet followed suit, we expect that to change, too. These changes leave few spots you can fly without facing basic economy fares – namely, Asia and Australia.
Just remember that you can beat basic economy fares. Study up on the restrictions on American, Delta, and United. All three airlines give you a way to pick your seat for a small fee – or free, in Delta's case.
It was inevitable, but this is still disappointing. Watch out for basic economy fares on your next trip to South America.