Painfully low prices with even-more painful seats aren’t just for Spirit anymore! Starting this spring your favorite legacy carriers — American, Delta, and United — are joining the bare-bones fare game. And while their enticing sub-$100 fares might look like a great deal to fly a non-discount carrier, are they really? Or are they just a sneaky way of getting you to pay even more for a coach ticket and still get stuck in a middle seat.
If you fly coach in this country, nothing should surprise you by now. Especially when something has all the hallmarks of another scammy airline move (checked bag fees, anyone?).
“It’s definitely not a scam. It’s the airlines coming up with a product to target travelers to whom price is more important than other factors,” says Jeremy Quek of American Express Travel. “Legacy carriers have seen an erosion in this segment, so they’re unbundling their traditional product to capture this segment.”
In other words: Cheapskates, rejoice. What the legacies are euphemistically calling “Basic Economy” fares aren’t a straight copy from the Spirits and Frontiers of the world. While discount airlines quote a stupid-cheap base fare, then tack on extra charges for everything from seat selection to onboard snacks to checked bags, Basic Economy doesn’t do that.
Here’s what you’re giving up
Basic Economy is the same experience as your typical coach cabin — soft drinks and snacks included, same sized seats, free reruns of Big Bang Theory — just a lot more restricted. So you won’t be paying extra for that Biscoff cookie and the wisdom of Sheldon Cooper. But you also won’t be paying extra to pick your seat or carry on a bag, either, because you won’t be able to at all.
Though the Basic Economy fare rules differ from airline to airline (and always read them before you book), most allow only a small personal item to be carried on. None allows you the option to select your seat when you buy the ticket, and only American gives the option to do it at all, 48 hours before check-in, for a fee. All Basic Economy fares place you in the final boarding group, though again with American, elite members keep their priority boarding.
All airlines allow you to check a bag for a fee, but if you show up at the gate with a large carry-on, they not only charge you the $20-25 checked bag fee to put it on the plane, they also charge a “service fee” of up to $35.