United Airlines just introduced a no-frills “Basic Economy” fare – and it’s not something to look forward to. The fare class is stripped of of what few perks are left in Economy class on American carriers and it’s not even sure that you’ll actually going to pay less for it. It continues the race to the bottom in a price focused market and United is responding to low-cost carriers like Spirit as well as legacy carrier Delta who introduced basic economy recently. Read my full review to find out what is included and what it means to you!
United released a full description of Basic Economy on their website and here is what it says:
While Basic Economy fares have some important, additional restrictions compared to standard Economy fares, customers will enjoy the same United Economy® cabin experience and services, including dining options, Wi-Fi and inflight entertainment. However, the following differences do apply:
- Automated seat assignments will be given at check-in, and passengers acknowledge at the point of a multi-seat purchase that seating together is not guaranteed.
- Carry-on bags are limited to one personal item, unless the customer is a MileagePlus® Premier® member, primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star AllianceTM Gold member.
- There will be no voluntary ticket changes except as stated in the United 24-hour flexible booking policy.
- MileagePlus program members will earn redeemable award miles; however they will not earn Premier qualifying credit (miles, segments, or dollars), no lifetime miles, and no contribution to four segment minimum.
- Customers will not be eligible for Economy Plus® or premium cabin upgrades.
- Customers will board in the last boarding group (currently Group 5) unless a MileagePlus Premier member, primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star Alliance Gold member.
- No combinability with regular Economy fares or partner carriers. Interline travel is not permitted.
If you are a United MileagePlus Elite or Star Alliance Gold member, there are significant downsides to these fares: You won’t earn any Premier qualifying credit at all, not even for dollars. That takes away the little reason to show loyalty to United – even if you commute weekly on business on these fares, you get zero credit towards status! And you won’t be able to get an upgrade to EconomyPlus with its extra legroom, one of my favorite perks. With these perks eliminated, I don’t see any reason why a frequent traveler should choose United over a low-cost carrier. And if you are a business traveler required to fly on the lowest available fare, you are out of luck!
For families and friends, it’s not attractive either: You won’t be able to get a seat assignment and can’t expect to sit together, so this eliminates it pretty much for families with small children. I don’t envy the flight attendants who have to mitigate between families who
ignored didn’t know about this rule, desperately trying to convince others – who paid more for that aisle or window seat assignment – to switch seats.
For infrequent travelers on a budget this doesn’t look like a good idea either, as you won’t get a full-size carry-on luggage, only a small personal item. While I like to travel light (see my Top 10 Packing Tips), this is an unreasonable rule. Unless you are on a day trip, it’s hard to see how you can fly with only a personal item, forcing you to check your luggage for a fee!
As you United says, “customers will enjoy the same United Economy® cabin experience and services” – but I’m not sure how much there is to enjoy under these rules!
It would be reasonable to assume that United will charge a lower price for these stripped fares, but that is not a sure thing. If you are planning to fly United Airlines in the future, make sure to check what fare you are buying. If any of the above doesn’t work for you, you’ll need to buy a higher fare – or fly a different airline.
While I agree that the legacy carriers need to differentiate their products in a very price-competitive market, I believe with the elimination of carry-ons, elite credit and sitting together, United is going too far, making this very unattractive for many. This adds more cause for conflict with unknowing passengers arguing over carry-on and seat assignments, making United flights less pleasant for everybody on board! I’m not likely to purchase a Basic Economy fare and I recommend you be careful as well!
If you’d like to get more travel related news like this from around the world, please follow me on Twitter – I’m posting news daily, so you can stay up to date on the world of travel with my Twitter updates! Or, for a weekly update, sign up for my newsletter for a Sunday Summary!