BASIC Economy Fare. Is it Right for You?

Airplaine landing over water at DuskBasic economy fares have been created to by the three large US air carriers to compete with the low cost airlines who offer no frills and or debundled pricing. While the big three have slightly different rules, they all are designed to bring a lower price to compete with Spirit Air, Frontier Air and similar airlines. You will find these are the lowest prices quoted on web sites.

So what do you get for the basic economy fare? Or more to the point, what do you NOT get. The list is a bit different for each airline, but basically, you get no reserved seat in advance, only luggage that fits under your seat can be carried on the plane, advance check in is not available, you are not likely to be seated with your traveling companions, little or no ability to change flights, little or no frequent fliery miles, and you are last to board the plane.

I recently tried out the service, buying a basic economy ticket from Denver to Minneapolis on United Airlines. I got a ticket reservation, but was not able to book a specific seat on the plane. When I tried to check in online, I was informed that I cannot check in online, and that I must have a United agent check me in. This was, as I found out, a way for the airline to be sure that I was not carrying a rollaboard luggage or anything that would not fit under the seat. At the Denver airport, I was surprised to find that it was difficult on check in to find an actual United agent. This was because the personnel handling the bags (at a major United hub) for checking at the United counters were NOT United employees, but ones from a service that United hired. And hence they could not check me in. They finally directed me to a United agent who checked me in. And with that, about an hour before departure, I got a seat assignment.

At the gate, passengers board by groups. They are 1 to 5. Groups 1 and 2 are the preferred flyers, those in business and those with elite status. Then group 3, then 4 and finally, 5. I was one of three on this flight in group 5. Again, the agent checked to be sure that my carry on (which was a small backpack) would fit under the seat. If it did not, I would be charged the fee for checked baggage plus $25 for paying at the gate.

Once onboard, I was treated no differently than a regular economy passenger. I was served a beverage and snack the same as other economy passengers. I did confirm after that I received no mileage plus miles for my flight from United because I was on a basic economy ticket. However, if I had decided not to fly on that flight, and tried to change, I would have lost all I paid. With a regular ticket I would have the residual value after paying a change fee.

As a rule, because of the restrictive nature of the tickets, Schilling will not proactively sell basic economy tickets to our travelers. You can request them, and we will sell them, but we will provide the information on restrictions when we do. If you are comparing our price to one you saw online, be sure that you are comparing our standard economy with the standard economy price online.

So is basic economy right for you? If you are traveling light, do not mind a middle seat, and know you will not request a change, then it might be right for you. But for most people, the better option is to upgrade to the lowest standard economy ticket. Most corporate flyers do not wish to purchase basic economy fares and their respective companies agree with them.

What have you experienced with the basic economy tickets? Are you happy with the savings? Did you encounter any unexpected hassles? Leave a comment. Thanks and happy flying.