Travel and Leisure: Basic Economy Airfare comes with strings attached

April 4, 2017

To give customers more flight options for their most price-sensitive customers, in 2012 Delta Air Lines introduced their Basic Economy Airfare. Since then, United Airlines and American Airlines (soon to fly non-stop between Billings and Dallas Fort Worth) have joined and added these discounted but ultra-restrictive airfares to many markets. As I see it, Basic Economy Airfares are in place to allow major carriers to compete with low-cost carriers.

Basic Economy Airfares are offered on a select number of bargain basement seats that offer fewer perks than a traditional coach ticket. However, the restrictions include complete non-refundability and non-changeable travel reservations (except within 24 hours of completing the reservation). Airfares vary between markets, and some Basic Economy Airfares can be as little as $25.00 lower than standard advance-purchased coach airfares.

Passengers traveling in Basic Economy cannot use the overhead bins for storage. They can only place carry-on items under the seat in front of them. That means a very small carry-on bag is requisite. If the bags do not fit, passengers must check the bag for a handling fee and luggage fee. United makes an exception for travelers with Elite status who can use the overhead bin space.

Currently basic economy maximum carry-on bag dimensions are:

• American: 18 x 14 x 8 inches

• United: 17 x 10 x 9 inches

Unlike United and American, Delta’s basic fare does not prohibit larger carry-ons and allows overhead bin use. However, Delta’s Basic Economy passengers will probably be among the last to board, so the bins will likely be full. Delta’s passengers with Elite status will not be able to enjoy priority boarding or free checked bags.

And with further restrictions, Basic Economy passengers cannot select a seat in advance of arriving at the airport. That almost guarantees middle and rear-aircraft seating for Basic Economy passengers.

Travelers know that nothing is simple when it comes to airfares. Now that major U.S. carriers have split economy seats into three parts; basic economy, standard economy and enhanced economy, the days of searching only for the cheapest flight will be over, or at the very least, very complicated for many travelers. Checking airfare prices now includes not only the airfare itself, but what the airfare price includes. So, be sure to check the fine print before completing your purchase if you want flexibility in your travels.

Safe travels!