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Basic Guide to Basic Economy Airfare Tickets

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Airlines are always looking for new ways to incentivize travelers. Travel has changed over the years from high-end luxury to no-frills cheap flights to get you from point A to B. Over the last few years, many major airlines have been introducing bottom-of-the-barrel cost tickets, known as Basic Economy. If you are looking for cheap, then Basic Economy could be as good of a play as ever. Basic Economy fares, especially in the off-peak travel season can offer deals as low as $19 for flights each way. Of course, you must be thinking, what’s the catch? Well not as much as it used to be when these fares were originally introduced.

Check out our “Basic Guide to Basic Economy,” below!

What is Basic Economy?

There is only one really great thing about Basic Economy, as it holds up against other kind of fares, and that’s… you guessed it …the price!

Basic Economy was created by major carriers such as American, United, and Delta to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers such as Spirit and Frontier. You may be familiar with these airlines famous for their rock bottom fares, but insane restrictions. A $49 fare on Spirit can quickly turn into over $100 if you want to bring a carry-on or a checked bag. Basic Economy may sound like a different cabin, but in reality, you could sit in just as nice of a set as the person who paid a much higher fare. Let’s face it, your travel experience on one of the major carriers is still going to be generally nicer (i.e quality of plane, legroom, snacks). While you may find your price to be a few dollars more than Spirit, you will thank yourself later.

An example of what you could see when looking up your flight. Comparing your options helps!
Photo courtesy of Google Flights

The biggest hang-up or knock against basic economy fares was centered around the elite’s point of view because all of their benefits would have been stripped. During the pandemic, the airline was forced to basically reconsider such action.

Booking a Basic Economy fare accommodates you in the same main cabin seat as economy class passengers. There are just a few differences in the travel experience as I will detail below

What are the restrictions from a normal fare?

Restrictions for booking basic economy vary by airline and are not one size fits all. Some general restrictions on basic economy fares include:

  • Fares will not earn miles or credits towards elite status
  • No choice of seats; seat will be assigned at check-in unless you pay an extra fee
  • Low-priority boarding group
  • No ticket changes or cancellations after 24 hours of booking (except on flights to Europe, where a fee applies).
  • No free checked bags on flights within the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Europe.
Examples of restrictions by region on American Airlines
Photo courtesy of aa.com

The biggest risk of a Basic Economy ticket is that these tickets on the major carriers such as American, Delta, or United Are that no changes or upgrades are allowed — not even for a fee. After booking if you change your mind you will have to buy a brand-new ticket. Unfortunately, you will need to eat the cost of the ticket you can no longer use.  In all fairness, if you cancel within 24 hours, much like a normal ticket booking, this does not apply.

How can I avoid these restrictions?

There are several ways that you can turn your Basic Economy ticket back into almost a completely normal ticket. If you are a frequent flier, having low-tier status, could help. If not, your next best bet could possibly be holding a co-branded credit card. As an example, I will show how your experience on American Airlines can vary.

Airline Status – Even having the lowest tier status, like AAdvantage Gold can help mitigate some of the loss you might take as a regular passenger booking ticket.

As a passenger on a flight, I took for a golf trip, I was able to check two sets of golf clubs for free. This perk was due to carrying AAdvantage Gold status. Without Gold Status, this could have cost me $60 each way.

Being an AAdvantage Elite member makes traveling so much better, especially if you’re flying on a basic economy fare. Elite members who purchase a basic economy fare can still access their normal benefits, including:

  • Upgrade privileges
  • Elite seat privileges (including access to Main Cabin Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats)
  • Same-day confirmed flight change benefit

Besides these two ways to get better benefits, make sure you pack light and arrive early at the airport. This will help make your experience smooth. Packing light ensures you don’t occur any additional bag fees, and showing up early may give you a shot at a better seat. If you have a large party you are traveling with, this can be especially important.

Basic Breakdown

The aviation industry has come a long way since they first started offering Basic Economy fares. Now offering loyalty benefits makes these basic fares look better than ever. Some airlines are slowly adding the ability to purchase add-on products when flying basic economy, like seat selection. If you are contemplating booking a Basic Economy fare, I hope this helped you decide. It might actually be the perfect time to buy a basic economy ticket due to these improvements. Remember when you book to use a card that carries good travel insurance and would cover lost bags if that ever occurred!

If you are considering future travel, don’t necessarily jump for a standard coach or main cabin fare. Now is the perfect time to reconsider the basic economy fare. What about you, Basic Travelers? Tell us about your experiences in booking these tickets in the comments below or in our 4,800+ Member Basic Travel Facebook Group!

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

Disclosure: Basic Travel Couple, LLC has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Basic Travel Couple, LLC and CardRatings and MileValue may receive a commission from card issuers. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

The comments section below responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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