Most of the time I’ve seen buy ups from Basic Economy to regular economy for $25 or so, or more on longer routes. But Tuesday night reader W. shared New York LaGuardia – Denver asking different buy up amounts for different flights — as much as $75 more one way.
There’s no way I would pay $75 more to avoid Basic Economy though I might pay the same or a little more to avoid United in this case.
Perhaps this was just a mistake? United is no stranger to self-destructing IT. That’s been an ongoing story since the Continental merger and the short-sighted decision to keep the owned SHARES platform. Here Basic Economy costs extra.
— Michael (@real_jetsetr) August 23, 2017
When Basic Economy and regular economy fares price the same I simply speculate that United’s regular economy isn’t really that much better than Basic Economy.
— Brian Sumers (@BrianSumers) August 22, 2017
And in fact there’s actually some truth there. Basic Economy means,
- No upgrades or extra legroom seats for elites (and depending on airline no or reduced elite qualification)
- No full-sized carry on bag, and board last (although elites and credit card holders are exempt)
- No advance seat assignments (or depending on carrier pay extra at the last minute for a seat assignment if desired)
- No changes to tickets, use it or lose it
When I wrote about American no longer offering complimentary extra legroom seating to customers on full fare tickets, I shared a seat map of a 737 on a short domestic flight. “P” indicates premium seat. If it has a P, American charges for the seat (but waives the charge for elite frequent flyers).
Nearly every decent seat on the plane comes with a charge:
So ‘buying up’ to regular economy means paying extra for the right to pay even more extra for a decent (“P”) seat.
If you don’t pay extra you may wind up in a middle seat if that’s all that’s left. Or you might wind up in one of the better coach seats that you would otherwise have to pay for, that’s a common result many United flyers have relayed to me in their experience with Basic Economy fares.
To be sure basic economy means not being allowed a full-sized carry on bag. (Unless you’re flying United and put your clothes in an instrument case.) But,
- That doesn’t apply to elite frequent flyers
- It doesn’t apply to co-brand credit card holders, I already have given the advice for years to get the credit card of the airline you fly most just for the travel benefits (but not for your regular spending)
- If you’re going to pay to check a bag anyway the carry on is less important, you still get a personal item like a laptop bag in any case.
You also board last, but without the need for overhead bin space that’s better, the only reason to board early is so you don’t have to gate check your rollaboard. Otherwise why spend even more time in the cramped seats?
So who should spend more to avoid Basic Economy?
- Elite frequent flyers who can reserve extra legroom seats at no additional cost, and who might get an upgrade (The buy up from Basic Economy becomes a lottery ticket).
- People without elite status, without the airline’s co-brand credit card, who want to bring a carry on bag onboard and not check a bag. Generally the checked bag fee will be about as much as the buy up, so the cost is a wash, and you save time.
- People buying super expensive tickets, since you can pay a $200 change fee if your plans change versus forfeiting the entire value of the fare (it’s trip insurance without the requirement for a qualifying medical event).
Basic Economy isn’t a ‘new lower fare’. It’s new restrictions on what were already the lowest fares. And the reasons airlines are offering them is so they can increase their prices without losing out on business from the most price sensitive customers. By making the economy experience even worse, some people will spend more and others will suffer more.
Of course customers also have options like Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, and Alaska which are not currently deploying this strategy and in some cases offer more legroom as well.
United reported they’re losing business to customers choosing their competitors instead of buying up from basic economy, but since they know American will play the greater fool and give up this advantage they believe the gap will close and the strategy will eventually mean more revenue to the airline.
Do you spend more to avoid Basic Economy fares? I’d love to know why or why not.