Is it worth taking a basic economy flight?


    As the end of the year approaches, it is time for many to plan their vacation trips. There is no denying that we are currently living in the golden age of air travel. If it has been a while since your flight, you should familiarize yourself with the Basic Economy Ticket.

    What is Basic Economy?

    Basic economy is a fare that is generally the cheapest of all fares. Basic economy tickets have their history from ultra-low-cost airlines such as Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant. These ultra-low-cost airlines have unbundled their fares so buying a ticket is only tied to the fare itself. Additional costs may arise when choosing a seat, when checking in or in carry-on baggage and even with snacks on board.

    The legacy airlines (United, American, and Delta) found that they were losing market share to budget airlines because many people chose their airline solely on price. These airlines need to balance low prices with the service their elite loyalty members have come to expect. This led to a new air fare called “Basic Economy”.

    How does Basic Economy fare on all airlines?

    The basic economy fare works generally similarly on all airlines, although there are some differences. In general, you can assume that a Basic Economy ticket will only be delivered with the fare itself. You have to pay for checked baggage. American, Delta and Alaska allow both carry-on baggage and one personal item, while United Airlines restricts you to one personal item on a Basic Economy fare unless you are an Elite member of United.

    Seat selection is another extra that costs you for a basic economy ticket. When you book your Basic Economy ticket, you can pay for your seat. If you don’t pay for a seat, you will be automatically assigned a seat upon check-in. This could mean that you may not be sitting with the other members of your tour group. It may not be possible to change or cancel your Basic Economy ticket. As an Elite member, you can earn miles at a lower rate.

    When is a ticket upgrade worthwhile?

    When the basic economy first came out and was unfamiliar, there was often confusion when passengers arrived at the airport and found they couldn’t take their hand luggage or sit next to the rest of their tour group. Now airlines and online travel sites have become more transparent as to which tariffs are the basic economy and the associated restrictions. This will allow you to review the options and decide what makes sense for you.

    There may be times when it is worth paying a little extra to upgrade your ticket and sometimes you want to save money and just fly in basic economy. If you’re traveling alone on the weekend, the seat selection and carry-on baggage restrictions may not be as important to you. Compare that to a week-long family vacation where the extra baggage allowance and the knowledge that you are all seated together could be worth the extra money to fly a regular economy ticket.

    Time vs. cost investment

    At the end of the day, as with many financial decisions, it comes down to a time-cost investment. Take a look at the benefits of buying a regular economy ticket and how much additional the airfare is. In addition to the time you gain by purchasing an upgrade ticket, consider safety too. Traveling can be a stressful time, especially during a pandemic, so knowing that you don’t have to worry about cramming all of your luggage into one personal item can be worth the extra money.

    Pro tip: Use our free travel budget calculator to plan your next trip.

    The bottom line

    The cheapest airfares these days are almost all basic economy fares – which means they come with certain restrictions. While this isn’t always a bad thing, it’s important to understand what your ticket includes and what doesn’t BEFORE you arrive at the airport. Finding out about your baggage allowance and the other rules of your ticket as soon as possible will help you plan your day of travel better. Flying can be a stressful experience and knowing what to expect can help lower your stress levels and get you to your destination safely and healthily.

    Author's photo

    Dan Miller (81 posts)

    Dan Miller is a freelance writer and founder of, a website that helps families travel for free / cheap. His home base is in Cincinnati, but he tries to travel the world as much as possible with his wife and 6 children.



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