It’s January so you know what that means…it’s time to look at what changes airlines have made in the rules for basic economy tickets over the last year. In 2018, every airline tweaked their offerings and Alaska Airlines introduced their version of a basic economy ticket, called Saver Fares. In 2019, it shouldn’t, be a surprise that they’ve all made changes, yet again, when it comes to the rules for basic economy.
Here’s the breakdown for each airline when flying a domestic U.S. route as of January 2019. Rules can be different for international flights booked in Basic Economy and can be found on each airline’s website.
When you book a Basic Economy ticket with American, here’s what you get:
- You can board with 1 carry-on and 1 personal item. The carry-on item must fit in the overhead bin and be no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 in (56 x 36 x 23 cm). The personal item like a purse or small handbag must fit under the seat in front of you and be no larger than 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm).
- You can choose a specific seat within 48 hours of departure for a fee. Otherwise, seats will be automatically assigned for free at check-in.
- Not eligible for upgrades
- No flight changes or refunds
- Board in the last group (Group 9)
Just saying, you know our luck with American and the size of carry-on bags.
American does have some exemptions for elite members of their AAdvantage program and those who hold a co-branded American Airlines credit card. They can:
- Keep their priority or preferred boarding privileges
- Keep their checked bag benefits
When it comes to earning miles for your flights or qualifying for status, you’ll earn full redeemable miles but will only get half credit towards status.
- Award miles and Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) earn based on ticket price (includes base fare plus carrier-imposed fees; excludes government-imposed taxes and fees) on flights marketed and operated by American
- Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) and Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) earn at a reduced rate of 0.5 per mile/flight segment flown on flights marketed by American
Delta Airlines version of Basic Economy comes with the following restrictions:
- Your seat will not be assigned until after you check in to your flight. If your seat number does not appear on your boarding pass, your seat will be assigned at the gate before you board and your boarding pass will list, “Seat Assigned at Gate.”
- Complimentary carry-on bag. Overhead bin space may be limited, so your carry-on bag may be gate checked free of charge
- You will not be eligible for paid or complimentary upgrades; paid, complimentary or discounted Delta Comfort+®; paid or complimentary Preferred Seats; or same-day confirmed or same-day standby travel changes, regardless of status.
- You will not be able to change or refund your ticket after the Risk Free Cancellation Period.
- You will board in with Basic Economy, the last zone of the new Delta Branded Boarding Order – Elite flyers or cardholders of an eligible SkyMiles credit card will retain their boarding status when booking basic economy fares.
- Checked baggage fees will apply, even when traveling internationally.
Frequent Delta flyers and cardholders of the co-branded Delta SkyMiles American Express cards will still get some benefits when flying on basic economy:
- If you have an eligible SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, you receive your First Bag Free on Delta flights booked with your SkyMiles Credit Card. The benefit extends to up to 8 travel companions, who must be listed on the Card Member’s reservation — for a total of 9 passengers.
- To reward your loyalty, your first checked bag fee is waived with Delta Medallion Status or as a SkyTeam® Elite & Elite Plus Member.
For mileage earning and status qualifications, Basic Economy fares on Delta are treated the same as a regular economy ticket.
United continues to have the harshest restrictions on their Basic Economy passengers.
- When you choose a Basic Economy ticket, your complimentary seat will be automatically assigned prior to boarding, and you won’t be able to change your seat once it’s been assigned. Advance seat assignments may be available for purchase during booking and up until check-in opens. You will not be eligible to purchase Economy Plus® seating or receive Economy Plus subscription benefits. MileagePlus members, including Premier® members, cannot use complementary, earned or mileage upgrades.
- Please note that customers traveling in a group, including families, will not be able to sit together unless advance seat assignments are purchased and seats are available.
- You’re not allowed a full-sized carry-on bag unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, the primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card or a Star Alliance™ Gold member. Everyone else who brings a full-sized carry-on bag to the gate will be required to check their bag and pay the applicable checked bag fee plus a $25 gate handling charge.
- You are allowed one small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, such as a shoulder bag, purse, laptop bag or other item that is 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm) or less. Mobility aids, assistive devices and medical devices including breast pumps are also permitted.
- With Basic Economy, you’ll only be able to check in for your flight through united.com or the United app if you indicate that you’re checking a bag. To check your bag, you’ll go to a check-in counter or designated kiosk in the airport lobby. If you begin check-in and do not indicate that you’re checking a bag, you’ll need to finish checking in for your flight at the airport.
- Flight changes and refunds are not allowed – Ticket changes are not allowed with Basic Economy, including advance and same-day changes. Refunds are not allowed except as stated in the United 24-hour flexible booking policy.
Certain MileagePlus and Premier member benefits are not available – If you’re a MileagePlus member, you will still earn award miles based on the fare and your MileagePlus status, as well as full Premier qualifying dollars, lifetime miles and toward the four-segment minimum. However, MileagePlus members will earn 50% Premier qualifying miles and 0.5 Premier qualifying segments, and they won’t receive some benefits.
- Last boarding group – With Basic Economy, you’ll also be in the last boarding group unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, the primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card or a Star Alliance Gold member.
I guess Alaska hoped that by not calling their tickets “Basic Economy,” they’d avoid much of the negative publicity these fares have attracted. But don’t let the name fool you, this is still a restrictive ticket.
- Limited seating may be available at the time of purchase. Most seats will be assigned at check-in.
- We can’t guarantee that parties of two or more will be seated together.
- Saver fare ticket holders board last, in boarding group E. They are allowed one carry-on + one personal item. Overhead bin space is on a first-come, first served basis. Elite Mileage Plan passengers keep Elite boarding status.
- No refunds are allowed beyond the first 24 hours after ticketing.
- No changes, including same-day confirmed changes, are allowed for Saver fares.
- No standby is allowed for Saver fares, even for elite status guests.
- If a guest is a no-show for any flight during a trip, all other flights within that trip are automatically canceled, with no refund available.
- Saver fares cannot be combined with any other fare types on the same itinerary.
- Saver fares are non-transferable.
- Elite members do not receive waived change fees, same-day confirmed, preferred seating, or upgrade benefits with Saver fares. On all fares including Saver, Elites receive bonus miles, baggage allowances, check-in benefits, and priority boarding. All other Saver fare rules and restrictions apply to MVP®, MVP® Gold, and MVP® Gold 75k Mileage Plan members.
They sure don’t make it easy to know what you’re getting yourself into when you buy a basic economy seat. If you’re considering buying one of these seats (or now redeeming points for one of them, no thanks to Delta for that option) here are some of the takeaways.
- United is the only airline that doesn’t allow everyone a carry-on bag for the overhead bin. However, all of the airlines warn that since you’ll be boarding last, there may not be any space in the overhead bins and you may (most likely) have to check the bag at the gate.
- None of the airlines allow you to choose a seat for free. United and American MAY allow you to pick a seat assignment for a fee but there’s no guarantee that those seats will be together.
- No airline allows you to upgrade seats, change flights (either in advance or same day) or cancel your ticket. You either fly the time you paid for in the seat you paid for, or you’re out the money.
- All of the airlines let you earn the full amount of miles based either on miles flown (Alaska) or cost of the ticket (American, Delta, and United). Any bonuses earned due to status will be applied to these tickets as well.
- Alaska and Delta fares fully count towards elite program qualification while Basic Economy fares on American and United only earn half of the premier qualifying miles and segments.
Looking at these rules, there are certain travelers who might not mind these restrictions that much. For example, if you’re a frequent flyer with status or have the airline credit card, you’ll keep your preferred boarding and ability to bring on a full size carry on for the overhead. If it’s a short trip, you’re probably not checking a bag. If you’re flying alone and don’t mind where you sit, the only negative is the decreased qualification for status on American and United. I’d say this describes many frequent business travelers, and most changes to the rules have been to make basic economy more appealing to them.
Then, who are these fares bad for? They are terrible for families since they’re most likely the customer buying solely based on price. This is why you have a situation like I had the last time (which is the last time) we flew on United. These types of passengers aren’t going to know the rules of these fares. In fairness, airlines have strengthened the language to stress the downsides of these fares, telling families or people wanting to sit together to simply not to purchase basic economy. It just seems that instead of offering a lower fare to value customers, airlines have imposed extra costs and fees upon families going on a vacation they’ve been saving up (or going into debt) to take.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary.