If You’re Buying the Cheapest Domestic Fares, Fly Delta

Spirit offers perhaps the worst airline experience in America. But Spirit will let you pay to bring a full size carry-on bag onboard.

United’s Basic Economy fares won’t let you bring a rollaboard onto the plane starting with fares sold in January for travel in second quarter 2017 on US domestic and short haul Latin America routes (unless you have MileagePlus elite status, a United co-brand credit card, or are a Star Alliance Gold member). You have to check the bag (and wait for it, and maybe lose it) and pay for the privilege of doing so.

But that doesn’t mean you should fly Spirit. United’s economy seats still have more legroom than Spirit’s do. You still get stroopwafels in the morning and good coffee made with airline water as well as soft drinks at no extra charge with United. And United’s route network has greater redundancy (and you can buy inflight wifi…sometimes).

So you shouldn’t fly Spirit. You should fly Delta.

  • Delta’s Basic Economy fares still allow carry on bags
  • Delta has a better airline operations — far fewer flight cancellations, and more on-time flights
  • At Basic Economy prices it doesn’t much matter that MileagePlus is a much better program than SkyMiles, your mileage-earning from flying isn’t significant enough to influence your decision. (And while we do not yet know what it means, revenue-based redemptions are coming to United — carrying some risk at least that MileagePlus, now arguably the best of the major US frequent flyer programs, could slide dramatically.

We don’t yet know what American’s Basic Economy fares will look like, but United’s were released under the airline President who drove development of the product for American. And Delta’s airline operation is better than American’s in any case. American’s mileage program is less of a differentiator than it used to be, and for Basic Economy is likely to be less of one still.

Unless and until Delta plays copycat with United for a change, someone buying Basic Economy fares – the cheapest tickets, starting next year – should simply choose Delta and not United.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. What a silly simplistic arguement.

    What about WN?

    Should I fly DL when AA or UA offer a nonstop, and DL requires a connection?

    You know better than to write drivel like this.

  2. United’s break from the pack makes buying an opaque ticket (Priceline bid or Hotwire Hot Deal) an unreasonable gamble. You might get the airline with good policies or you might end up paying for your carry-on.

    For the benefit of their customers and their future business, Priceline and Hotwire should exclude these new United fares from any opaque offerings. Will they?

  3. For consumers, the race to the bottom continues neck and neck. Does anyone in their right mind still contend that the Big 3 airline mergers were in the interest of consumers and that they increased competition? Good grief.

  4. United can keep their disgusting slimline seats. It takes me 2 days just to recover when I sit in those seats. I would rather not fly then fly on United or in a slimline seat. I’m a million plus miler but I still can’t put up with it.

  5. @John
    If that were the test, then no merger ever would be approved. Companies ultimately have to make a profit to be viable long term. No, profit is not a 4 letter word. There are many more airlines than there are phone manufacturers or mobile providers, would the public be better served by breaking them all up? No, because economies of scale is necessary to be competitive. Would you rather uncompetitive airlines like Continental, US Airways, etc. just wither and die on the vine?

  6. For domestic coach tickets I would pick Southwest over any of these mentioned in the article. 2 checked bags and carry ons.

  7. He makes the argument that if all things are equal then Delta is the better bet on the lowest basic fares. With Delta you’ll get a more consistent product with operational reliability, more benefits and an overall better customer service experience.

    Your loyalty carries little weight when traveling on these basic fares with the airlines.

    Why would you not want to go with the best value?

  8. @WR, The Justice Department seems to think that the effect on consumers is the test for airline mergers. It sued to block the AA/US merger contending that it would lead to less competition, higher prices and less service for consumers. AA claimed that the merger was pro competitive and would benefit consumers. I don’t remember any claims by AA or anyone else that the merger should be approved to increase airline profits. That is not the government’s job. If an airline is unprofitable and noncompetitive, then it has the option of bankruptcy to restructure its costs and debts or liquidation (Pan Am and Eastern are two prime examples).

  9. I’m not a doctor just a former travel agent, who likes to make the right choices when it comes to my flights. Like having surgery or more medication as options, the choice is ultimately with YOU, the patient. There are so many options and choices to make when spending your travel dollars, the choice rests with you. There is usually not one right choice or maybe there is.

  10. unless there’s been new development, UA’s program is arguably the worst of the 3 after its “by the computer or nothing” change.

  11. I fly Spirit all the time! Where else can you get a ticket Detroit to Ft Lauderdale for $23.10 each way? I just use a backpack which fits under the seat. Sometimes I go just for the day…leave at 6a.m. and return at 8p.m. Round trip Detroit to Cancun is $150 in January! I can sit in their seats for 3 hrs. October I spent $22 for 2 r/t tickets Detroit to NY using minimum Miles! And my planes have been on time. I have not found cheaper tickets on any other airlines!

  12. Let’s face it with less competition it will only get worse. In many markets there is little choice. I just flew ftom San Francisco to London on United. Paid an additional $189 for economy plus. The seat was so damn uncomforable. I should had booked on Oakland to Gatwick on Norwegian. They fly the new Dreamliner and are alt cheaper with better service.

  13. Was this a paid advertising for Delta? I find the overall attitude and customer service focus far superior at Southwest, not to mention 2 free bags and decent WIFI on most flights. Seems you guys purposely ignore them.

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