Basic economy is not going anywhere.
Years after all three major U.S. airlines – Delta, United, and American – rolled out these no-frills fares to compete with budget carriers like Spirit and Frontier, that much is clear. The big domestic airlines are going even further with basic economy – Delta has expanded it to award tickets, and all three airlines measure the success of basic economy based on how many passengers pay to avoid it.
So it pays to know what you’re getting yourself into. Here’s a look at what’s included – and what’s not – when flying basic economy with United Airlines.
What You Get with United Basic Economy
There’s no way to spin this one: United has the most restrictive basic economy fares out there.
- Baggage: Get a personal item for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag (or $60 each way to Europe). No carry-ons allowed unless flying to Europe.
- Seat Selection: Available for a fee, starting at $10. Otherwise, seats are automatically assigned.
- Boarding: Final boarding group.
- Earning United MileagePlus Miles: Yes.
- Earning Status: You’ll earn half the Premier Qualifying Miles and Premier Qualifying Segments as a standard economy fare.
- Upgrades: Not eligible for complimentary upgrades.
- Ticket Changes and Cancellation: Not allowed, except for within 24 hours of booking.
Let’s start with the bad news: No carry-ons. Unless you’re flying across the Atlantic Ocean, all you get is a small personal item like a backpack. United executives say they have no plans to change this, even as both Delta and American allow carry-ons for all basic economy passengers. These fares also earn just half the elite status credits as a standard economy fare.
On the bright side, United makes it easier than other airlines to select a seat. You can pay to select a seat (generally from $5 to $20 each way) up until the 24-hour check-in window opens, after which it’s free to pick the best of what’s remaining.
How to Beat United Basic Economy
The easiest way to beat some of these restrictions is by holding one of United’s co-branded credit cards like the United Explorer card.
Among the other benefits of the card, you’ll be able to bring on carry-on luggage, as will any other travelers booked on your itinerary. You’ll also get a checked bag for free. And you’ll all get priority boarding – a significant improvement, considering United basic economy flyers typically board last.
But there’s one catch: You have to pay for your ticket with the United Explorer card in order to get those benefits. It’s one of the few airline credit cards that require you to pay with the card in order to unlock those benefits.
Click Here to get more details on the United Explorer Card.
What Routes Include United Basic Economy Fares?
Right now, United Basic Economy has been rolled out on all routes heading to the following locations:
- U.S. Domestic Flights
- Mexico and Central America
- The Caribbean
There is currently no basic economy offering on United flights originating out of the U.S. 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 elite status members (depending on the destination).
United’s Basic Economy is easily the worst among the major U.S. airlines. And there are no signs that it will get any better.
Unless if you’re flying to Europe, you won’t get a carry-on bag. That alone is proof that United is merely looking to force flyers to pay up for a main cabin economy fare – generally another $60 on a round-trip ticket.
These fares are a huge cash cow for United and other airlines. And unfortunately, basic economy fares are generally priced at what main cabin fares once were. On United and other airlines, you’re paying the same amount but getting less with basic economy.
On the flip side, United’s co-branded credit cards pack some serious punch to beat basic economy. So if you’re a frequent United flyer, those credit cards are worth seriously considering for those benefits alone.
And United’s seat assignment policies are more generous than other airlines. That makes it easier to book a basic economy fare and still wind up sitting with a companion – so long as you’re willing to pay a bit more.
Basic economy has transformed the airfare world. By offering these bare-bones fares, United can compete with budget carriers on price while pitting flyers with new restrictions – largely in hopes that they’ll pay up to upgrade. And seeing as United makes a ton of money on these fares, don’t count on that changing any time soon.
Lead Photo courtesy of byeangel via Flickr
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