4 Myths About United’s New Basic Economy Fares. How Many Did You Fall For?

This Los Angeles Times article on flight attendants favoring United’s coming Basic Economy fares repeats some myths about these new fares and their effect that I’ve seen repeated in several places since United’s announcement last week.

Myth #1: Passengers on Basic Economy fares can’t use the overhead bins. This is false. They are permitted to bring on a ‘personal item’ but not a full size carry-on. Where they put the carry-on is up to them. While a personal item will generally fit underneath the seat in front of them, they don’t have to put it there. Once a passenger is onboard and in their seat there’s no distinction between someone on a Basic Economy fare and any other fare type. They still get complimentary soft drinks and they get a stroopwafel in the morning. And they can use the overhead bins if there’s still space available when they board.

Myth #2: Basic Economy fares will mean significantly fewer items in the overhead bin. On full flights, overhead bins will likely still be full. There are often more bags going onto a plane than there’s room, so some bags will need to be gate checked. Some passengers on fares that do not permit bringing full sized carry-on bags onboard should first trade off with gate checking bags, rather than reducing the quantity of bags in the overhead when a plane takes off.

Myth #3: United is lowering fares. United has already largely been matching the low fares in the market. Basic economy is a way of moving some passengers who buy those fares today to buy more expensive fares instead.

Myth #4: More carry-on bags mean more flight attendant injuries. In fact, “the rate of airline employee injuries caused by luggage” has fallen over 40% in the past six years, even as checked bag fees have spread and increased and as load factors have risen.

Here’s what Basic Economy fares really mean:

  • No seat assignments prior to check-in, and no changes to the seat you’re given
  • No ticket changes at all (instead of a $200 change fee, you’d simply forfeit the entire value of a ticket and have to buy a new one)
  • No elite status credit (no qualifying dollars, segments, or miles) although you’ll still earn redeemable miles on these fares.
  • Bring a personal item onboard only, no carry-on bags (this is waived for elites including Star Alliance Gold members and for co-brand credit card holders)
  • No elite upgrades
  • No economy plus seating for elites (and no buy up to economy plus for anyone). Elites will effectively has to start paying for economy plus, on routes where Basic Economy fares are being offered, in the form of a higher fare.

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. Given that these fares will not have advanced seating assignments, and given that on many full flights the non-economy plus seats fill up first (because non-elites don’t want to buy up) doesn’t this mean that if you aren’t elite you might actually have a better chance of getting a good seat given that the only seats left are often economy plus?

  2. How do basic economy fares work if you have a United MP Explorer Visa? Do you board group 2? Get a free checked bag? Etc.

  3. So how early will they need to begin the boarding process so that they can carefully check the amount of carry on bags of each pax? Seems like more mass confusion.

  4. Don’t know how other commentators are coming to the conclusion that there will be lower fares and you are coming to the conclusion that there won’t be. There has been no indication, whatsoever, about what the fares will actually be. Might be a good idea to wait until they come out before declaring it a myth that people have “fallen for”. United certainly hasn’t been matching Frontier and Spirit fares, which is who they say they will be using these fares to compete with.

  5. @farnorthtrader United doesn’t even claim they are going to LOWER fares, just that these are the lowest fares. They don’t plan to undercut the ultra low cost carriers. These will be the fares that match what those airlines offer now — fares that United already matches.

  6. Gary, would you think that traveling companions on the same PNR of a credit card holder would also get the baggage carryon restriction waived?

  7. I’ve got to say, I don’t like this race to the bottom. That said, I’d rather book a cheap seat on an ULCC like F9 and buy additional services a la carte than buy a cheap fair on UA and be stuck with all of its downside.

    Now that I’m not flying internationally very often, I’d rather just pay for what I want than chase less and less valuable elite status.

  8. Millón miler and currently united platinum this year. I travel for leisure exclusively. So far I have bought two tickets for next year and both are with JetBlue. I guess I am not United’s target customer any more.

  9. How else can the airlines devalue my flying experience in economy? I really don’t like what’s happening. If it’s come to this, I may as well fly LUV domestically.

  10. To me the lack of earning EQMs is a dream killer. I travel mostly on business through a Corp travel agency and can see them forcing BMW in this fate bucket only to find out later I can’t roll aboard or earn EQMs. I also agree that it will be a mess to police the carry-ons unless they assign them a different boarding group. Imagine stopping dozens at the gate and requesting that they pay money to gate check bags.

  11. Wonder how this will work for corporate TMC. Most currently require that the lowest possible fare to be purchased. This means lots of additional hassle for business travelers… even elites.

  12. Strong preference for seat with my travel partner. I guess I will have to pay up. What seats will be available at check in will be anyone’s guess. Imagine families trying to trade seats once boarded because seats together were not available at check in.

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