Basic economy

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American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX economy class cabin

Basic economy is a travel class offered by a number of airlines in the United States. Basic economy fares were introduced as a way for full-service airlines in the United States to compete more effectively with ultra-low-cost carriers, and to encourage passengers to upgrade to standard economy fares.[1]

Basic economy fares generally come with significant restrictions. Passengers traveling in basic economy are typically not allowed to change or cancel tickets or select seats for free, and are the last to board and leave the aircraft.

By airline[edit]

As of November 2018, Southwest Airlines is the only major American airline (other than ultra-low-cost carriers) with no plans to introduce basic economy as a travel class.[2]

Delta Air Lines[edit]

Delta Air Lines Airbus A220 economy class cabin

Delta Air Lines was the first airline in the United States to introduce basic economy in 2012.[3] According to Delta, the airline got $20 million in extra revenue during January to March 2016, with plans to expand the fares to other markets.[4] Delta introduced basic economy on transatlantic flights in April 2018.[5]

As of April 2019, basic economy passengers on Delta receive a free carry-on allowance, but may not select seats nor change, cancel, or upgrade their ticket after purchase, regardless of elite status. For domestic flights, the first checked bag costs $25; unlike most international carriers which provide a free checked bag, Delta charges $60 for the first checked bag on international flights in basic economy. Seats are assigned at check-in.[3][6] In October 2017, Delta executives said that they did not want customers to purchase basic economy fares, seeing the fares both as a defensive measure against ultra-low-cost airlines offering low fares, and as a way to lure prospective customers into buying more expensive options.[7][8]

United Airlines[edit]

United Airlines announced its basic economy fares in November 2016 and began selling these tickets in early 2017. These fares do not include overhead baggage space nor earn elite miles.[9][10] Grant Martin of Skift described United's roll-out of basic economy fares as "the most widespread and aggressive" of the three major US full-service carriers. United revealed plans to reduce its basic economy offerings in November 2017, due to revenue loss resulting from customers opting for other airlines that price-matched United without basic economy restrictions.[11] However, United announced an expansion of basic economy fares in January 2018,[12] and introduced basic economy on transatlantic flights in June that year.[13]

As of April 2019, basic economy passengers on United do not receive overhead space for carry-on baggage, and may only bring a personal item that fits under the seat in front, except for transatlantic flights where basic economy passengers continue to receive a carry-on baggage allowance. Changes and cancellations are not allowed. Passengers who want to bring a full-sized carry-on bag have to pay a fee of $25, except for MileagePlus elite members who receive free allowance. Basic economy fares earn half the elite qualifying miles compared to standard economy fares. Seat assignment up to 48 hours in advance is available for a fee.[3][14] In October 2018, United's chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella announced that the airline had no plans to change its carry-on baggage restriction.[2]

American Airlines[edit]

American Airlines introduced basic economy fares for 10 markets in February 2017, following Delta and United. When first introduced, American did not provide basic economy passengers with free overhead space for carry-on baggage, except for its AAdvantage elite members who still receive the standard free checked bag allowance.[15][16] American introduced basic economy on transatlantic flights in April 2018, which include one free carry-on and allow passengers to select seats in advance for a fee.[5][17] American re-introduced a free carry-on bag for basic economy passengers in September 2018 in addition to a personal item, a change the airline attributed to basic economy revenue not meeting expectations.[18][19]

As of April 2019, basic economy passengers on American receive a free carry-on allowance and may select seats for a fee within 48 hours of departure. Basic economy fares earn half the elite qualifying miles compared to standard economy fares. Upgrades and changes are not allowed. On international flights, seat selection and changes are available for a fee at any time after booking.[3][20]

Alaska Airlines[edit]

Alaska Airlines announced Saver Fares, its version of basic economy, in April 2018, with the fares rolling out from January 2019. As of April 2019, basic economy fares on Alaska include a free carry-on allowance, as well as free seat selection, though only for seats at the back of the aircraft. Changes and cancellations are not allowed after 24 hours of booking.[21][22]

JetBlue Airways[edit]

In October 2018, JetBlue Airways president Joanna Geraghty announced that the airline plans to introduce basic economy fares starting in late 2019, as a response to competitors introducing basic economy on routes flown by JetBlue. The airline intends to allow basic economy passengers to bring a standard carry-on bag.[23]

Hawaiian Airlines[edit]

Hawaiian Airlines announced in December 2018 that it plans to introduce basic economy fares in the second half of 2019. The airline said that basic economy passengers will not get advance seat assignments nor be allowed to make changes to the flights, and will be the last to board the aircraft, but will be allowed to bring a standard carry on bag.[24]


Seat choice Carry-on Checked bag Mileage earning Refs
Alaska Airlines Limited Yes With fee Yes [22]
American Airlines With fee Yes With fee or with elite status Reduced [20]
Delta Air Lines No Yes With fee (domestic and some international) Yes [6]
United Airlines With fee Only with elite status With fee Reduced [14]


Basic economy fares have widely been described as a way for airlines to upsell customers to more expensive fares, instead of a product that airlines want customers to purchase.[1][2][25]

Justin Bachman of Bloomberg News argued that basic economy fares cause passengers to pay more to fly. Bachman stated that airlines increase revenue by increasing standard economy fares while introducing basic economy, causing customers to trade up to standard economy.[26] Bachman described this phenomenon as "sleight-of-hand marketing".[2]

In response to a freedom of information request, the United States Department of Transportation released nearly 50 pages of customer complaints between May and September 2017, during which airlines widely rolled out basic economy fares. Barbara Peterson of Condé Nast Traveler observed that these complaints included passengers not knowing the requirement to check in at the airport, and online travel agencies not displaying limitations of basic economy fares to customers.[25]

William J. McGee of Consumer Reports stated that basic economy fares "come with significant tradeoffs", and that being unaware of the restrictions may result in additional fees that negate savings from the fare difference with standard economy. However, McGee noted that basic economy fares may still be preferable to cheaper fares on ultra-low-cost carriers due to more flights, newer aircraft and higher reliability offered by major airlines.[1]

Aviation writer Seth Miller argued in Runway Girl Network that basic economy is not about helping airlines compete with low-cost carriers, but instead is a way for airlines to increase incremental revenue. Miller pointed to the expansion of basic economy fares to domestic flights without LCC competition as evidence of the trend, noting that basic economy works "very, very well" at pressuring passengers to spend more money for the same product.[27]


  1. ^ a b c McGee, William J. (August 9, 2017). "What You Should Know About Basic Economy Airfares". Consumer Reports. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  2. ^ a b c d Bachman, Justin (November 16, 2018). "Why Airlines Don't Want You to Fly Basic Economy". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  3. ^ a b c d Carey, Meredith (July 26, 2018). "Basic Economy: How Every Major U.S. Airline Compares". Condé Nast Traveler. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  4. ^ Jansen, Bart (April 14, 2016). "Delta: 'Basic Economy' fare strategy pays off, will expand". USA Today. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  5. ^ a b LaGrave, Katherine (April 6, 2018). "What Basic Economy to Europe Will Be Like". Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  6. ^ a b "Basic Economy: Save with a Low Fare". Delta Air Lines. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  7. ^ "Carriers in America are doubling down on budget airfares". The Economist. October 13, 2017. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  8. ^ Sumers, Brian (October 12, 2017). "Delta Doesn't Actually Want Anyone to Buy Basic Economy". Skift. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  9. ^ Avakian, Talia (November 15, 2016). "What It'll Be Like to Fly 'Basic Economy' on United Airlines Next Year". Travel and Leisure. Archived from the original on November 21, 2016. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  10. ^ Singleton, Micah (November 16, 2016). "United Airlines' new basic economy fares ban carry-on baggage". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  11. ^ Martin, Grant (September 11, 2017). "United Backtracks on Basic Economy Fares as American Expands Them". Skift. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  12. ^ Hawkins, Andrew J. (January 24, 2018). "Plane tickets are about to get cheaper, but beware of 'basic economy'". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  13. ^ McGinnis, Chris (May 30, 2018). "United goes transatlantic with Basic Economy pricing". SFGate. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  14. ^ a b "Basic Economy". United. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  15. ^ Golson, Jordan (January 18, 2017). "American Airlines will offer cheaper tickets but carry-on bags won't be allowed". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  16. ^ Mutzabaugh, Ben (January 18, 2017). "American latest to add 'Basic Economy,' carry-on restrictions". USA Today. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  17. ^ O'Kane, Sean (March 1, 2018). "American Airlines is the latest to add 'basic economy' fares to international flights". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  18. ^ LaGrave, Katherine (July 26, 2018). "American Airlines to Let Basic Economy Passengers Bring a Free Carry-On". Condé Nast Traveler. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  19. ^ Hawkins, Andrew J. (July 26, 2018). "American Airlines is making 'basic economy' rules less punishing". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  20. ^ a b "Basic Economy". American Airlines. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  21. ^ Rizzo, Cailey (April 30, 2018). "Why Alaska Airlines' Basic Economy Fare Will Be Better Than Most". Travel and Leisure. Archived from the original on May 2, 2018. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  22. ^ a b "Saver fares on Alaska Airlines flights". Alaska Airlines. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  23. ^ Gilbertson, Dawn (October 1, 2018). "JetBlue to add cheaper, no frills "basic economy" fares in 2019". USA Today. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  24. ^ Gilbertson, Dawn (December 20, 2018). "Hawaiian Airlines to add no-frills basic economy tickets in 2019". USA Today. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  25. ^ a b Peterson, Barbara (November 7, 2017). "The Dark Side of Basic Economy". Condé Nast Traveler. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  26. ^ Bachman, Justin (June 9, 2017). "How 'Basic Economy' Actually Makes You Pay More to Fly". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  27. ^ Miller, Seth (December 19, 2016). "Basic Economy isn't about the LCCs". Runway Girl Network. Retrieved 2019-04-23.