3 things I think about when booking basic economy


As most frequent flyers know, the basic economy has evolved significantly since airlines started adding the low-cost fare option over the past decade.

Originally seen by airlines as a way to compete with low-cost carriers, the general principle has remained fairly constant: you pay a lower ticket price than a main cabin ticket, but you will lose some of the services on your flight. – or at least lose free access to them.

On the other hand, airlines have made quite a few changes in terms of what’s included in a basic economy fare, what’s not, and what you can add on for a fee after choosing the cheapest ticket.

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TPG has guides with everything you need to know about basic economy rules with American, Delta, and United.

However, given how basic economic policies differ from airline to airline, not to mention how they have changed over time, I personally have found it useful to have a list of mind control of the factors I consider to assess whether it’s worth saving a little (in fact, sometimes it’s a decent amount) by booking a basic economy ticket, or whether I’d rather opt for a ticket economy full price.

A Delta Air Lines plane at the gate of Dulles International Airport (IAD). SEAN CUDAHY/THE DOT GUY

Knowing which factors are most important to you is crucial to making the best decision about the right airline. Below are the main factors I consider.

1. Free full-size hand luggage

Whether you’ve always been hesitant to check a bag whenever possible or moved in that direction after the baggage chaos from last summer, going without a checked bag can be a great solution. But unless you can fit all your stuff into a small backpack or handbag, you’ll need a carry-on; preferably one that can fit in the top tray.

Historically, a common policy for airline base economy classes has been to limit your free baggage to one personal item that can fit under the seat and to charge for anything extra.

Personally, on most trips I will need a full-sized bag in some form or another. With that in mind, if I’m traveling on an airline with restrictive baggage policies, I’ll stay away from basic economy unless it’s an airline I have a elite status or a checked baggage benefit with a co-branded airline credit card that overrides that of the airline’s basic economic restrictions (more on that in a moment).

Fortunately, today these types of carry-on baggage restrictions are less common on major US airlines than they were a few years ago. Of the three major US airlines, United is the only one to restrict free access to overhead compartments as part of the basic economy.

An American Airlines plane at the gate of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). SEAN CUDAHY/THE DOT GUY

2. Loyalty Benefits and Earnings

A second key factor I think about when deciding whether or not to book a basic economy fare is whether I will be able to take advantage of my frequent flyer benefits, earn miles and progress to elite status while traveling on an economy fare. basic.

In 2018, when I was first seeking elite status with American Airlines, knowing that I would be “on the bubble” in December, I stayed away from the basic economy at all costs, because at At the time, AAdvantage members only got half credit toward elite qualifications. segments when traveling with a basic economy ticket. American has since ended the two elite qualifying segments (in favor of its frequent flyer points system) and handicapping on AAdvantage earnings for Basic Economy Class travelers, so you now earn miles and frequent flyer points even when flying Basic Economy Class.

But other airlines still have restrictions in place. United Basic Economy travelers earn MileagePlus miles and Premier qualifying points, but their travel does not count toward Premier qualifying flights. Delta does not allow its SkyMiles members to earn miles or credits toward elite status when traveling in Basic Economy Class.

While you’d rather pay the lowest fare, you’d also hate paying for a flight and not having it fully count towards an airline’s frequent flyer program, so I’ll consider how the airline handles this when making my decision.

I’ll also weigh the other perks I get while on a flight in my decision, whether it’s elite status or a co-branded airline credit card. Sometimes airlines put in place strict rules for basic economy class tickets, but allow exemptions for elite members on certain policies; it certainly differs from airline to airline.

To that end, I’m weighing a few factors: Will my usual perks still apply, despite basic economic restrictions? Will I be eligible for free upgrades? Will I be able to board in my typical priority group as opposed to the last group on board, as is almost universal with basic economy class tickets? If I need to check a bag, does my free checked bag benefit still apply?

If the answer to all these questions is “yes”, I may well choose the cheapest ticket.


3. Route flexibility

Another characteristic of basic economy notes is that they have traditionally lacked flexibility. when it comes to making changes beyond the grace period of 24 hours after booking.

The inflexibility of basic economy tickets compared to other tickets is all the more striking: airlines have, on the whole, relaxed their change and cancellation policies on most tickets, compared to before the pandemic, but the basic economy is usually the exception to this flexibility.

Although you may recover some of your investment when you voluntarily cancel a basic economy class ticket, you will often pay a high percentage of the ticket as a cancellation fee. You will generally also be limited or completely limited in your ability to modify your trip.

If I have any idea that I might have to change or cancel my trip before departure, basic saving is probably not a good idea. If I’m confident the trip will go as planned and I’m not afraid of losing all or most of what I paid, I might be willing to book a basic economy class.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). SEAN CUDAHY/THE DOT GUY

One thing to always keep in mind

Ironically, whether I can select my own seat on a flight almost never figures into my basic economic decision equation. This is because airlines do and have almost always excluded free seat selection from these discounted tickets.

This means that you probably cannot guarantee that your family sitting together on basic economy trip. You will often be assigned – or perhaps be able to choose – a seat at check-in, in which case there will be far fewer seat options available.

For this reason, if seat selection is important to you, you may not even need to weigh a checklist of factors: basic economy may simply not suit your travel needs.

At the end of the line

With policies varying over the years and from airline to airline, basic economy policies versus full fare economy policies can be a lot to follow. For this reason, it’s a good idea to know which services and benefits are most important to you, so you can make the best decision on the right type of ticket.


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