Traveler's Edition icon
Traveler's Edition
  •   3 min read

In his third and final guest post for, Brett Snyder – founder and writer of airline industry blog Cranky Flier – is giving us the lowdown on a new, lower cost way to fly: yep, we’re talking basic economy.

Check out the previous guest posts from Cranky Flier: 

Everything you need to know about Premium Economy

> The Low Cost Transatlantic Airlines You May Never Have Heard Of

Delta Airlines interior cabin
Delta Economy

It used to be that an economy ticket was an economy ticket. Sure, you might like one airline more than another, but in general, you always received the same perks when you flew. In the last decade, however, that has changed dramatically. The rise of low cost carriers has meant all kinds of airlines have pulled out perks from the base fare and turned them into add-ons that come at a cost. Now, traditional airlines are introducing something that takes this to an extreme… Basic Economy.

Airlines like American, Delta, and United have long struggled to figure out how to compete with low cost carriers head-to-head. At one point, they thought starting their own low cost airlines would be the solution, (Ted and Song ring a bell?) but those all failed. It’s only been in the last couple of years that they’ve figured out how to really compete.

These airlines have long matched low cost carrier fares, at least in some cases. But they also provided customers with more perks than they’d find with those low cost airlines. Customers liked that, of course, but it hurt airline revenues. Still believing that matching low cost carrier fares was important, the traditional airlines have now decided to create a new, less costly product that will better match what the low cost airlines are actually offering.

Delta launched Basic Economy a couple years back, primarily on flights from the upper Midwest down to Florida where it competed with Spirit Airlines. It has since expanded into many more markets. What’s the difference between Basic Economy and regular Economy on Delta? Well, onboard it’s the same. But it’s what happens before you fly that differs.

  • Basic Economy customers cannot reserve a seat assignment in advance. It will be assigned at check-in, and you can expect a middle.
  • Basic Economy tickets cannot be changed, even for a fee.
  • Basic Economy ticketholders board last.
  • Basic Economy ticketholders cannot upgrade to a preferred seat or to a higher class, even with elite status.

For some, this may not seem like a big deal. If price matters most, then this will probably be attractive. But those who want a better experience should purchase regular Economy instead.

What’s the cost difference? Well, it will vary. A quick check for travel in May showed flights from LA to Orlando commanding a mere $15 one way premium for regular Economy over Basic Economy. From Detroit to Orlando, however, the difference was $25. I wouldn’t expect there to be a standard amount, especially once the airlines get more sophisticated with how they price this.

Until recently, this seemed like a test and it was unclear if it was going to stick. But sure enough, everyone is starting to buy in. American has said it will introduce Basic Economy, but details won’t be released until next year. United, however, just recently announced its Basic Economy offering.

United Airlines airplane

Like Delta, United won’t allow seat assignments in advance, changes, etc. But it has put even more restrictions on the fare. Non-elite United Basic Economy ticketholders will not be able to bring a carry-on bag on board (a personal item is still allowed). Also, travelers will not earn elite qualifying miles on Basic Economy tickets.

We don’t know what United’s Basic Economy fares look like just yet. They won’t go on sale until after the New Year, but we can guess what to expect. Chances are the lowest fares that are out there today will become Basic Economy fares. That means you’ll pay the same price you paid before, but now you’ll get less. That may not be very appealing, but as a strategy for the airlines, this makes sense. Just be sure to read the fine print when you’re buying a ticket to make sure you know what’s included and what’s not.

What do you think about the introduction of Basic Economy?

IMG: Delta Air Lines; Shutterstock

One response to “Cranky Flier: The Rise Of Basic Economy

  1. Why on earth would anyone fly these airlines when they can go Southwest, JetBlue or Alaska at about the same price and not put up with this nonsense? You know the price will be about the same without these restrictions. American,etc will not lower their price for these tickets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

footer logo
Made with for you