Basic economy fares are a tool to raise prices, while not losing business from the most price-sensitive customers. They take the lowest fares and impose new restrictions that will be unpleasant enough for about half of passengers that they’ll spend more to avoid them.
Although sometimes the pricing winds up weird and even those of us who might ‘buy up’ are faced with such a price difference that basic economy still makes sense.
The risk is that instead of booking a more expensive ticket, the customer flies a different airline.
However carriers are betting that all the major players will follow in lock step so consumers won’t have better options. Sometimes airlines get the pricing so far apart that Basic Economy can
Domestically we’ve seen Delta, United and American roll out basic economy. The biggest exception is the largest carrier of domestic passengers, Southwest.
Now we’re seeing Basic Economy spread to flights between the U.S. and Europe.
American Airlines and its transatlantic joint venture partners British Airways, Iberia, and Finnair are rolling out restrictive basic economy fares for travel across the Pond. This launches in April.
- No refunds or same day flight changes or standby (same day flight changes apply only to certain Heathrow flights today). In American’s version at least these tickets will be changeable for a fee.
- No free advance seat assignments
- No free checked bags
- No upgrades (so American’s eVIP upgrades given to Executive Platinums, ConciergeKey members, and million milers will have minimum fare class restrictions for international travel for the first time)
- Board last (British Airways and American only, on American this will mean Group 8, and this doesn’t apply to Finnair or Iberia)
- Only 50% of elite qualifying miles and segments when crediting to AAdvantage (no change for other programs)
Unlike domestic US basic economy fares, these basic economy fares will not include a carry on baggage restriction. And passengers flying on a domestic basic economy fare and connecting to an international basic economy fare will get the international allowance (so they can bring a full-sized carry on onto the domestic flight segment).
Young children traveling in the same reservation will be seated with their adult traveler, however families won’t otherwise be kept together unless they pay to assign seats in advance.
American Airlines and oneworld elites will still be able to retain premium check-in, security, and boarding and select seats for free and retain their existing checked baggage allowance on these fares.
British Airways already denies free checked bags to elites on their ‘hand baggage only’ fares and that does not change. Finnair will only extend free checked backs to top tier elites of partners. Lounge access benefits based on elite status or paid membership will continue to apply as well.
BA produced a chart that appears to suggest benefits like checked baggage is dependent upon the program you hold status in rather than the airline flown but that appears incorrect to me.
- Update: American called and confirmed my assumption that the chart above is inaccurate. They’ll be updating with corrected information shortly on how elite status works on these fares across carriers.
Here’s American’s info sheet comparing domestic and transatlantic basic economy:
Delta and its transatlantic joint venture partners introduced basic economy together in December. Those do not permit free first checked bags, but are otherwise less restrictive for most customers.
At the time I wrote it wouldn’t be long until American and United followed suit. We can expect to see something similar from United and their joint venture partners I think, presumably once they get the IT down.
File this under completely expected, but another degradation in the travel experience that offers less value to customers at the same price.
(HT: Traveling for Miles for the detail on British Airways, Ibera, and Finnair)