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To say Basic Economy fares are frustrating and confusing is an understatement. Regardless of how often you travel, this fare category is something we all need to understand, especially so we don’t book these fares without intentionally meaning to. That’s what happened to my friend. Maybe it’s happened to you too? She’s not blaming the airlines, though. She didn’t quite understand and didn’t pay good attention to what she was booking. But she won’t make that mistake again! In talking to her, I realized it would be a good idea to explain what Basic Economy fares mean and to understand what restrictions are placed on your ticket.
The three legacy airlines all have a Basic Economy category. Delta was the first one to introduce these fares, but now United and American Airlines have them as well. Each of them have their own set of restrictions. In general, though, the restrictions usually mean: NO advance seat selection, NO carry-on baggage allowances (your personal item will have to fit under the seat in front of you), last to board, NO accruing miles for the trip, fares are non-refundable and non-changeable, and other restrictions. Delta’s policy is slightly different on a few of these, so check each airline carefully. The legacy airlines see this as competing with what we might call the Low Cost Carriers such as Southwest and JetBlue. Or competing with the Ultra Low Cost Carriers such as Frontier and Spirit.
However, as we’ve started to see, these Basic Economy fares are also showing up on routes that the Low Cost Carriers and Ultra Low Cost Carriers don’t even fly. We need to be aware of this because we’re often getting less but paying more (or the same) than we used to in some of these markets because the fares are called Basic Economy. Think higher fare for an inferior experience.
My friend asked me if she should EVER book a Basic Economy fare. Of course, that’s the essential question, isn’t it? Once we FULLY understand what the restrictions are in this class of service, we have to look at prices. Here are the questions to ask yourself before purchasing a Basic Economy ticket:
- Is your trip a short one where you can only take one small personal item like a backpack? This would avoid extra fees. I’ve traveled with my friend and this will be her biggest challenge :)
- Is the Basic Economy fare a GREAT one? Added fees and frustrations are manageable if the fare saves you a chunk of change.
- What are your other options? How much more expensive are they? Fares can range from a $50 difference one way for Main Cabin to as little as $3. Traveling with these fare restrictions is an individual choice we all make and it may change from trip to trip. And is that cheaper fare really saving you money once you add in extras like seat assignments or carry-on baggage fees? Let math be your friend!
There’s been a lot of confusion when people book these Basic Economy fares and although the airlines and booking sites have gotten better at disclosing Basic Economy fare restrictions, you really must pay attention. Avoiding booking these fares can be tricky. The major online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Priceline, Orbitz, or Expedia do not make it easy to filter out these fares, so always look to see if it says Basic Economy before you click through to get more details on the fare. The legacy airline websites make it a bit easier to spot these fares, but it’s still a “buyer beware” situation, so carefully check prices and fare classes. Don’t rush through the booking process. And don’t book these fares thinking you’ll be able to talk your way out of the restrictions when you get to the airport. I’ve seen people try to do this and it’s just not a pretty scene, and I’ve never seen anyone be successful, either.
Recently, a fellow traveler brought a good work-around to my attention. KAYAK allows you to filter out Basic Economy. By clicking the “More Filters” option, you can de-select Basic Economy. This actually filters out ALL no frills results, so what they show when Basic Economy is filtered out will be a traditional fare which includes a seat assignment and a carry-on option. You know, like the good old days!
If you’re frustrated by all this Basic Fare restricted services nonsense, you can often choose to spend your money elsewhere. I’m a big fan of Alaska and JetBlue. Alaska serves me well, and on the East Coast, JetBlue often has great fares and serves many cities, too. Of course there’s always Southwest! If you play the Basic Economy game well, it could save you some money. But it’s important to know the rules and do the math. This helps you from feeling frustrated and keeps you playing the game on your own terms!
Have you booked these fares by mistake? Have you booked them on purpose? What’s been your experience? Did I miss any points that would help people understand the Basic Economy fares better? Let me know in the comments below.