A Word on Basic Economy Airline Fares

I wanted to take a quick look at what a lot of airlines are advertising as their low far option going into the beginning of the holiday season. You should have the basic information on what basic economy is so there aren’t any surprises.

The Basics

Basic economy is the current lowest fare option offered by most major airline carriers. It is exactly as the name implies, a seat in economy class with basically no other perks. Basic economy fares require you to look into the fine print. No checked bags are included with the fare and on some carriers, no carry on bags either, just a smaller personal item. These tickets 99% of the time are non-refundable! Some carriers, such as Delta,  allow for these seats to be upgradeable to a different cabin class and others (like United) do not. 

Basic economy was launched about two to three years ago to try and attract the low budget customers. It is a great tool for the airlines to use to be more competitive with budget carriers like Southwest, and jetBlue. European budget carriers like Easyjet and Ryanair have had models where you pay for everything for years. 

Who This is Good For

If you are a solo traveler like myself, this is a fantastic option for you! I wouldn’t recommend basic economy on a long haul flight, but for short trips, this can save you a lot of money going into a larger or more popular airport. I decided to test out United’s basic economy to Santa Ana airport on my last trip to Disneyland a few weeks ago.

I wasn’t able to select my seat or take any checked bags, but I was allowed a carry on item. Since I was only going to Southern California for 2 days, I packed everything in my backpack. The seat was pretty miserable. It was one of the tightest and smallest leg room seats I have ever experienced. The flight was on a newer 737-MAX 800 plane; for us aviation nerds, this is the newest model plane for the 737 model offered by Boeing that a lot of US carriers depend on as the workhorse for domestic flights.  

I had no complaints that I was given a window seat, but if you can avoid it, try not to be seated in the back of the engine. It’s loud! Don’t get me wrong, I love sitting in the back of the plane, but on a flight like mine, I just wanted to get out and stretch my legs. You get what you pay for. For an hour flight, it is bearable. With basic economy on United, you are able to receive a soft drink and snack, but that’s about it. 

If you want to save some money and are traveling as a family, my advice for you is to look into what your priorities are. You are not able to select seats; if you value being able to sit together, don’t book basic economy. If saving money is important to you and your kids are a little older, consider basic economy for shorter flights. If you will have extra baggage, pay more for the regular economy class ticket. 

Words of Caution

If you decide you want to check in a bag after all and it is not carry on compliant size, you will pay big money. When I worked as a gate agent, we would check bags at the gate for free. Try and gate check the bag if you can at least get it through security. When I worked at the ticket counter, we had a gentleman who had a big rolling suitcase. He had bought too many items and alcohol and knew he was going to have to check the bag. Unfortunately with his fare class, the bag cost $75 to check. AT the time, my carrier was only charging $25 for a normal bag. The $75 was more than the cost of his ticket. 

Always read the fine print on your ticket! Everything will be spelled out for you on what is and is not included. Also bear in mind that various carriers have different size restrictions what what they consider to be carry on sized bags if you are allowed to bring one. Most carriers will not allow basic economy bags in the overhead bi, but rather require them to be able to fit under your seat. 

My advice

Regular economy seats (depending on the carrier) typically allow for checked bags at a lower cost, seat selection and snacks. I have learned for flights over three hours that I value paying more for a slightly larger amount of legroom. Pick your battles. Would you rather save money on the ticket, or suffer on board? You get exactly what you are paying for. Hope this helps clear up some information about what a basic economy ticket is and includes! Until next time, happy travels.