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Flying Soon? What You Need To Know Before Booking ‘Basic Economy’

Hattie Burgher  |  October 23, 2018

Thinking of heading on a trip? Here’s what you need to know before you book your next airline ticket.

Flying is expensive. Which means many of us will do what we can to reduce the cost, which usually means booking a basic economy-class fare.

Basic economy class is essentially the bare-bones of airline seating: It gets you to point A to point B without any frills. This week we found out that airlines are getting more and more strict with what you can and can’t do as an economy passenger.

Be Prepared to Sit in the Middle

When booking a basic economy class fare, rarely will you have the chance to select your seats for free in advance. With United’s “Basic Economy” tickets, your complimentary seat will be automatically assigned prior to boarding, and you won’t be able to change your seat once it’s been assigned. And if you want to be able to reserve a seat, it’ll cost you extra, which defeats the purpose of trying to bring down your ticket cost. Plus, if you are traveling with a group or family, don’t expect to get a seat together unless, again, you are willing to pay. Not having your pick of seats when you book your flight also increases your chances of being stuck in the dreaded middle seat.

Be Prepared to Travel Light

Traveling on United’s basic economy fare? Make sure to leave that extra pair of wedges behind. You are not allowed to bring a full-size carry-on bag that fits into the overhead bin, and if you do bring one, you’ll have to pay the $30 checked bag fee and a $25 gate handling charge. You’re only allowed one personal item that fits under the seat. Yep, definitely not enough space for your wedges. Thankfully, if you are flying with American or Delta then you are allowed one personal item and one carry-on that can fit into the overhead bin.

Be Prepared to Board Last, with No Chance of an Upgrade

OK, so boarding last isn’t the worst thing, because who wants to sit on the plane longer than they have to? But at the same time, if you have a carry-on that needs to be put in the overhead bin and space runs out by the time you board the plane, then you’ll have to check it, and no one enjoys waiting at the luggage carousel.

Flying basic economy also means there’s no chance of an upgrade, so kiss those dreams of having more legroom goodbye.

Be Prepared to Be Flexible … And Not So Flexible

Refunds and ticket changes are not even an option when you book basic economy. So make sure that you are absolutely boarding that plane on that day and time or else you’ll lose out big time.

And what is possibly the most frustrating part of being a basic economy passenger is that you’ll likely be treated like a second-class citizen. There’s a policy at American Airlines where gate agents are being directed to only rebook economy passengers on other American flights if their flights are delayed or canceled. Non-economy passengers will get the option of being rebooked on another airline without extra charge. Which means you could be hanging out in the airport waiting for the next available flight for a very long time — especially since there’s no stated limit on how long you may have to wait for a seat on the next AA flight.

“It helps to be your own advocate in these situations – and to use credit cards to your advantage,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com. He suggests getting a credit card that might be able to help you out incase of a delay or cancellation. Rossman notes that the Chase Freedom card might be a good option since there’s no annual fee and it covers up to $1,500 per passenger and $6,000 per trip for flight cancellations or trip interruptions (such as a diverted flight). Cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Rewards are even more generous with reimbursement amounts. If you frequently book basic economy, it might be worth it to shop around for a card that can get you out of a travel jam.

“At the end of the day, if you’ll be paying more for added a la carte amenities on a basic economy ticket [like] seat selection, checked baggage, meals, etc., it could be worth it to just pay outright for the true economy ticket,” says Emily McNutt, News Editor at The Points Guy.

Plus, if the flight is long, you’re planning on staying at your destination for more than a couple of days or you’re completely incapable of only taking one pair of shoes (guilty), than this is also a good reason to get a less restricted seating option.


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