Basic Economy Fare: 6 Restrictions You Should Know About

American, Delta, and United Airlines are now offering a Basic Economy fare on select routes in an effort to compete with low-cost carriers such as Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant. This class of service is being offered to travelers who want the lowest fare available and are willing to accept the restrictions that come along with the lower price.

6 Restrictions You Should Know About:

Ticket Restrictions:


With most nonrefundable tickets, you can make a change for an added fee, but that is not the case with the Basic Economy fare — no changes or refunds are allowed. If you have to change your flight schedule because of an emergency or any other type of delay, you will forfeit the money paid for the ticket and will have to purchase a new one.

Same-day flight changes are not allowed, and you cannot fly standby with the Basic Economy fare.

The Risk-Free Cancellation Period covers the Basic Economy Fare. You have 24 hours from the time you book the flight (must be at least seven days in advance of your flight) to cancel your ticket or make any changes.

Seat Assignments:


Seats will be assigned at check-in or at the gate. On United and Delta, you will not be able to request a seat in advance or have seats together if traveling as a family or with friends. You will not be able to upgrade your seat either.

If traveling with children under the age of 13, this could present a problem. The airlines will try to keep parents and young children together, but that may not always be possible.

On American, you can pay a fee for a seat assignment 48 hours prior to the flight’s departure time.

In comparison, Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier all charge for an advance seat selection.

Carry-on Bag Restrictions:


American and United limit you to one personal item that you can bring onboard. It must be small enough to fit under your seat, like a purse, small backpack, or laptop case. Full-sized carry-on bags are not allowed, and you will not be able to use the overhead bins.

If you show up at the gate with a full-sized carry-on bag, you will be required to check it as baggage at the gate and pay the standard checked baggage fee plus a $25 gate handling charge.

However, both United and American will allow their elite members to bring a full-sized carry-on bag and store it in the overhead bins.

Delta has a different policy when it comes to carry-ons. It will allow all of its Basic Economy passengers to bring a full-sized carry-on bag onboard and use the overhead bin. It does not distinguish between its elite members and all other travelers in this regard.

Spirit and Allegiant allow one personal carry-on for free if it will fit under the seat. There is a charge for using the overhead bin and for larger carry-ons. Frontier charges a fee for all carry-on bags.

Checked Baggage:

The checked baggage fee is the same as the Economy fare for United, Delta, and American. Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier charge for checked baggage as well. This fee is for one-way only (in other words, double it for round-trips).

Getting Bumped from the Flight

Airlines typically sell more seats than what are available in anticipation of a certain percentage of passengers not showing up. If they need to bump passengers off the flight, they usually pick those that paid the least amount for their seats — which would be those in Basic Economy.

Boarding the Plane:

Basic Economy fare passengers will be the last group to board.

With Allegiant, you can pay a fee to board early, and with Spirit and Frontier, passengers who paid for upgraded seats will board earlier.

In-Flight Services Available:


With American, United, and Delta, you will enjoy the same in-flight services and amenities available with standard Economy, including snacks, non-alcoholic drinks, Wi-Fi (may have to purchase it), in-flight entertainment, and any meals that are included on long flights.

On Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier, you can purchase drinks and snacks. Frontier recently introduced Wi-Fi on many of its flights, but Allegiant and Spirit do not offer this option. There is no in-flight entertainment available.

Elite Members:

On American, United, and Delta, with the Basic Economy fare, if you are an elite member, you will not be eligible for many of the benefits that are available to members. However, you will continue to earn award miles. These may be at a reduced rate and other restrictions may apply.

Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant offer reward miles as well to their elite members.

By understanding the restrictions that apply with Basic Economy fare, you can make an informed decision. The lower cost of airfare may or may not be worth the inconvenience caused by the restrictions.

If you anticipate having to change your flight plans, the lower fare may end up costing you more in the long run. The tickets cannot be changed and no refunds are allowed.

For more travel insight, check out my newest release,

Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad



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