Will Airline Awards Soon Book into Basic Economy?

I’ve gotten asked increasingly frequently lately now that United, Delta, and American all offer Basic Economy fares (no advance seat assignment, no cancel/changes, no upgrades or extra legroom seats, and in United’s and American’s case no full-sized carry on bag) how soon until saver awards book into Basic Economy?

And it’s not a crazy question.

  • In Europe and Asia your miles buy you the base fare only. That’s why you pay carrier-imposed (fuel) surcharges on award tickets.

  • Delta has gone the farthest among US airlines of viewing miles as money, just money that is only good on their products. They want you to spend more miles to buy ancillary offerings that make travel more comfortable whether it is more legroom or a premium cocktail in their lounge.

    Doesn’t it make sense then we would get true revenue based redemption, you pay in miles based on what a ticket costs, basic economy is cheaper so you get basic economy for the fewest miles?

Sitting in Back of Legacy US Airways Coach

And yet I don’t think so, at least any program would be foolish to give their mileage members basic economy for their miles.

  1. Award travel is the reward for loyalty. After members redeem miles on average their rate of accumulation rises. Airlines make big margins selling and redeeming miles. Give members a bad basic economy experience they are less likely to value the redemption. Accumulation slows and the airline loses mileage sales and profits.

  2. Airlines don’t want to sell Basic Economy tickets they want customers to buy up from basic economy. Basic economy is a form of price increase (on those with the greatest willingness to pay). Since miles can’t be used on any airline the way cash can if they want to raise price they increase the price on the award chart or in Delta’s case just make miles worth less.

  3. Delta shows they have no problem devaluing their miles every few months they don’t need basic economy to implement a price increase.

The point at which an airline decides to squeeze members an extra 2000 or so miles each way to avoid Basic Economy is the point that they no longer have a ‘rewards’ program. Even Delta — which is generating $3 billion a year from American Express – doesn’t want that. How many people would spend on a Delta American Express card so they can aspire to the Basic Economy Experience?

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. Airlines introduced Basic Economy to entice people to buy tickets. Airlines would be silly to sell off that product as mileage redemptions. The only way this makes sense is if the airline then increased the number of tickets in basic economy, in which case they’d be better served with a new fare class for mileage redemptions that mimics Basic Economy.

  2. Eventually the airlines will kill the golden goose. Imagine if there was no revenue stream from miles. Most airlines wouldn’t be able to stay in business. I think they will eventually reach a tipping point where travelers will have nearly no loyalty and will move to earning flexible points direct with the banks. The banks have to pay to service the airlines, buy miles, etc. I’m sure they like having access to customers for marketing but they can make more money on their own I’m sure. I wonder how companies like Capital One compares to airlines cards in revenue percentages, etc.

  3. @ Gary — I bet AA or UA jumps first. Delta is run by greedy executives that have stolen from their most loyal long-term customers through unannounced serial devaluations, but they are smarter than this. Delta will just continue what they are doing now when calculating the number of miles for coach awards, which is approximately dividing the ticket price for Main Cabin fare/1.3 cents per mile. Like Donald Trump, they arne’t getting away with stealing billions of dollars by being stupid. Ultimately, it’s the customers (or voters in the case of Mr. Trump) that are stupid.

  4. @ Gene – But just how stupid are people who let the airlines rip them off by devaluiing miles without a fight, then now probably won’t even know that Alaska is the only one offering full miles to get that free ticket every year or more instead of every 4-5 years like the Big 3 gave for 40-50 years?

    After Bush they now teach in the schools of our allied countries that the American redneck is the stupidest creature on the planet, literally too stupid to know their own economic interest so they will vote for a party or con man that takes away their entire class as long as they/he is as mean and racist as they are. My German friends tell the Americans that a third of our country tell pollsters that they are in the top 10% of wealth, something that no other country on earth can imagine another having people that stupid!

    What our allies and everyone else now have come to realize is that the great American democracy was killed by stupid, by people who dont’ know where their health care or Social Security comes from or who fought for and against it for years. No other country has people this stupid. They are called “rednecks” properly everywhere else except here where it’s too politically incorrect.

  5. Due to carrier imposed surcharges, almost all British Airways long haul economy redemptions have add on fees that equate to the price of buying a ticket—even AFTER spending your hard earned miles. Yet I assume plenty of people redeem them? It’s possible to run global mileage programs even with these horrible add on fees.

  6. @Gary —-> Your logic is impeccable, and your reasoning flawless…and that’s the biggest argument for the L3 to do EXACTLY the opposite!

  7. Mark my words. Gary is wrong. The big 3 airlines will eventually book awards into basic economy. Give it about 2 years.

  8. RE: Greg. The funny thing is, Greg has admitted that he grew up in Redneck country. The nut does not fall far from the tree or so they say. So Greg where does the social security money come from, the money fairy? Where does medical care come from, the house elves? Greg sounds like pretty anti-American So Greg, does it disgust when they raise the American flag or when they sing the Star Strangled banner? Called any veterans baby killers? Spit on any oil workers? Tear down any statues?

  9. @Em Ja is right. It’s interesting. People bash the BA program for their fuel surcharges. They bash the BA J product that seems awful across the board… But BA hasn’t changed a thing and their parent group stock price has generally gone up over time. Clearly they understand they can get away with things our community finds terrible. As basic economy becomes more mainstream I expect the US3 to introduce awards for it.

  10. @fat redneck. I’m a combat veteran. What we know for sure is that you and all of the other right-wing vomit are draft Dodgers.

    Social security, Medicare and and all other measures of a humane society came from Democrats who were fought every step of the way by the Republicans who to this day scheme to try to take them away. They know that their voters are just that stupid and as a result they hang by a thread. So you have hope that you can imitate the vile dictatorships which restrict all of these programs.

  11. @Greg. A combat veteran? You mean like Senator Blumenthal from Connecticut. Wow. Did you serve in Vietnam? Were you a hero like John Kerry who was awarded 3 purple hearts, 1 silver and 1 bronze star in just 4 years in Vietnam? In any case, just because you are a veteran does not mean you love America. In fact, you sound like you hate America. Let me put this in question form: Greg do you love America? So what do you love about America? Do you even remotely like Americans?

    @Greg, you mentioned Social Security, but unfortunately, there in no way to pithily discuss Social Security: (1) Your history is wrong. Social Security and Medicare were strongly supported by both Republicans and Democrats. (2) Further, if you were serious person, you would realize that the overpromises of welfare states, including a number of nations in Europe and the US are going to be a various serious challenge in the future. (3) In the USA, in 2017, the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees indicate that the main Social Security Trust fund made up of US Treasuries, will be depleted by 2038. (4) It gets worse. (Whoosh. I put in sound effects because I am sure this next part is beyond your comprehension. Whoosh). There is actually nothing in the Trust Fund, because the Federal Government by law has borrowed 100% of the balance of the fund and spent it. (Whoosh). That’s right, by law the Social Security Fund has buy treasuries, which are Federal Government borrowings. Therefore, 100% of social security payments are coming out of current taxes and borrowings. (Whoosh) Madoff was small ball compared the Social Security Trust Fund scam. (5) How are they (both Dems/Reps) planning to deal with it. Print money, borrow more, massively increase social security taxes, default on the promises, and lie about fixing the problem.

    Actually Greg, I am sure you have no idea what I am writing about. Whoosh. I am guessing all you hear was Uga Buga Uga Buga, Dema gooda, Trumpa bada. Uga UGA UGAH BUGAH. I think I will call you Neanderthal Greg from now on.

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