The next time you search for a cheap flight online, there’s a good chance you’ll find an option for “basic economy” tickets from major airlines Delta, American and United.
These no-frills fares are priced to compete with mid-priced and low-cost carriers, but there are many strings attached.
Things to know about Delta’s basic economy
I’ve written about the different basic economy fare restrictions in the past, so I had a pretty good idea about what to expect when I booked a round-trip flight on Delta.
Here are some of the basic economy restrictions that Delta lists on its website:
- No seat assignment until after check-in or at the gate
- Families may not be seated together
- No same-day changes or ticket refunds
- Board in the last zone
- No paid or complimentary upgrades or preferred seats
Given those restrictions, I was prepared to board last, fight for overhead bin space and then make my way to a middle seat in the back of the aircraft.
That didn’t happen…
Two things surprised me. First, I was able to select a seat on Delta’s website when I checked in for my Atlanta to Los Angeles flight. I was initially assigned a middle seat, but I moved myself to an aisle — at no extra charge.
Also, because I have a Delta SkyMiles credit card from American Express, I received Zone 1 boarding.
Since I had such low expectations for the basic economy service, the combination of these two factors made boarding the flight — and the flight itself — a lot more enjoyable.
Was I just lucky? Perhaps, but I also noticed something that may help others who buy a basic economy ticket.
Both of my flights were full, so the gate agents anticipated a shortage of overhead bin space. I saw other passengers move up to Zone 1 simply by checking their carry-on bags free of charge.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that this will happen on your flight, but at least you know it’s a possibility.
Clark’s take on basic economy fares
Money expert Clark Howard doesn’t like basic economy one bit. He said these low fares are offered to make the airlines appear more competitive in search engine results, but many people don’t realize the limitations before they book.
For example, this $98 flight is basic economy, but that’s not disclosed until you go to book through American’s website.
Bottom line: When you’re searching for flights on sites like Google.com/flights, just know that fares from Delta, American and United could be basic economy — and always read the fine print.