Know what you’re trying before buying - Airline Economy Fares Edition
Updated: Jul 7
Basic Economy - is it worth it? Do you know what you’re getting? Do you know what you’re NOT getting? Stay tuned as I walk you through some of the advantages and disadvantages of those low Basic Economy prices.
Basic Economy - I bet you didn’t think there was anything more basic than economy itself, right? Well wrong. In mid 2017 several airlines implemented this new offering, making more of their fares more affordable for the budget traveler. As if the Main Cabin hadn't gotten uncomfortable enough, they now offer a stripped down just sit-in-your-seat ticket.
If you’ve been flying for a while, I’m sure you’ve noticed a big downward trend in the benefits of economy seats on most major U.S. carriers. When you once had more legroom, unlimited beverages and snacks, overhead bin space (or wait, you may not have even noticed that space as you could check your bags to your destination because they were FREE then), or gasp - a meal - you know that many of those benefits are no longer included. As the airlines began to tighten their budgets several years ago due to rising fuel costs and the looming economic recession, they opted to charge for, or remove, some of those perks. However, in more recent years some of those perks have started to resurface. Delta, one of the major U.S. legacy carriers have recently upped their game by now allowing you the option to text or message over limited social media platforms and watch movies or shows via Delta Studio®, an inflight media site for travelers. In some cases, they’re even taking a throwback to the 80’s and 90’s and offering free meals on select transcontinental flights. As in any industry, when one major player starts a new campaign to lure more business to its model, competitors soon follow suit. American and United have reintroduced perks as well, but so far Delta seems to be ahead of the game in complimentary added comforts.
So back to those Basic Economy seats. What do you think you get for that low fare? Well, since most of the airlines now charge for a checked bag for even a “regular” economy ticket, you can be certain that the Basic Economy passenger is doing the same. After all, you are paying a lower price. But, what you can’t do as a Basic Economy passenger is bring a carryon that is larger than a small personal item. In fact, there are size and dimension limitations. Meaning, if you want to save money on checked luggage by taking your small 22” roller board on the plane, you’re out of luck. There is no overhead bin space for you and your ticket will designate as such. So if your Basic Economy ticket is less the cost of checking that bag at the cost of at least $25 each way, then so far, this might be a great option.
No checked bags - so what else are you forfeiting at these lower rates? Well, if you have any hopes of sitting up front or in an aisle or window seat, you’re out of luck. Basic Economy seats are designated for the last rows in the airplane and often are left to whatever seats remain open after the Main Cabin passengers have pre-selected theirs. The option of even selecting any seat, or upgrading for that matter on the airplane is not available to you as a Basic Economy passenger. So, you’re sitting at the back of the plane, in a middle seat and you’re not taking anything more than a small personal item on board. Oh, and don’t forget, if you’re traveling in a group or family you’re not likely to sit next to them as those seats are selected right before the boarding process and no choice is given to you at the booking process, gate or anywhere else. In addition to those things mentioned above as you’re anxiously waiting to board the plane, you realize you’re in “Zone Last”, or more commonly noted as Zone 9 on American, Zone 4 on Delta and Group 5 on United. You won’t be settled in your seat nice and comfortable before the fight. You’ll be the last one on the plane before take-off.
Comparison chart of Basic Economy versus Economy with United Airlines.
So, does saving a few dollars for this stripped-down version of flying appeal to you? In a recent poll on our Facebook page we asked viewers if they preferred the cheapest seat possible, or if they preferred comfort at an affordable price. More than 70% of viewers stated they would prefer comfort at an affordable price. So why are airlines taking this drastic no-frills approach? As airlines such as Frontier, Spirit and other low-cost carriers gain in popularity, legacy airlines are asking themselves what they can do to compete. Their answer is Basic Economy. This option could be good for a number of people, but most will find the no-frills approach annoying at best. But if you are planning a quick day trip, or if you don't plan to take much with you, this may be perfect for you. After all, the Main Cabin pricing is usually only a $20-30 cost difference and bags alone round trip will cost you more than that. So if you’re on a strict budget and you just need to get from point A to point B, Basic Economy is there for the taking. But for the vast majority, they would prefer comfort over the hassle.
Tip: When you're pricing air on the major online outlets, be sure you check the fare type. Most online agencies are now pricing the Basic Economy price first! When you get excited about that really low fare, you could be purchasing Basic Economy over Main Cabin (Economy).
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