A few months ago, Delta started selling basic economy fares to customers when using SkyMiles to book flights. And that was bad news, as using frequent flyer miles has been one of the best ways to avoid the scourge of basic economy – fares without seat assignments, no cancellations, and no chance at an upgrade.
These basic economy award tickets weren't widely available to start. Delta indicated it was just testing the waters on flights in and out of Charleston (CHS), along with flights between Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) and Phoenix (PHX). But it was only a matter of time before that expanded. And the time has come.
Some searching shows these basic economy awards when using SkyMiles are now even more widespread. Basic economy awards are now for sale on far more routes, including many flights in and out of Delta hubs like MSP, Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW), Salt Lake City (SLC), and more starting in the early spring. Take a look.
The airline didn't loudly announce this change, but a spokeswoman confirmed that it expanded basic economy award tickets to “most Delta flights within the U.S. and Canada” as of March 5.
For now, there are not basic economy award tickets available for flights to Europe or Central America. But that could just be a matter of time.
The writing was on the wall from the moment Delta started selling these basic economy award sales. Still, it's disappointing to see them expanding. There's no way to spin this as a positive.
Basic economy has spread like wildfire, offering passengers fewer frills for the same price they once paid for a standard economy ticket. Read up on the major U.S. airlines' basic economy restrictions.
In general, you don't get to pick your seat, you often earn fewer miles, and some airlines like United don't even allow a carry-on bag when flying basic economy. Airlines have made it clear that they don't actually want passengers to buy these “cheaper” fares – they use these restrictions to encourage flyers to pay up for the normal economy fare.
And at first blush, it appears that some of these basic economy award tickets may actually be a tad cheaper than what Delta normally charged for an award ticket when using SkyMiles. But that's a mixed bag, and there's no telling whether that will hold over time.
But the worst news of all behind this expansion of basic economy award fares is that it all but ensures this will be the industry standard going forward. Airlines like United and American often follow Delta's lead – it was the first major airline to launch basic economy fares. And now that all of them have followed suit, it's likely only a matter of time before they start selling basic economy award tickets, too.
Delta gets a bad rap for how it handles SkyMiles. And though we still think SkyMiles can be great, there's no denying that this is a blow.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.