A New Look at Basic Economy for Domestic and Short-Haul International Travel

Soon, nearly all airlines will sell some sort of a Basic Economy ticket. The growing number of ultra-low-cost carriers along with price conscience travelers searching on comparison websites have forced the major legacy carriers to introduce these bare-bones tickets in order to compete.

Comparing Basic Economy Fares Across Airlines

While Basic Economy may not be for everyone, there are many travelers who can take advantage of these cheap flights without being fooled into paying more than necessary. Since all airlines have slightly different restrictions for Basic Economy passengers, I’ll provide an overview of each airline’s Basic Economy policies below so you can be more informed when deciding which airline to fly and whether to buy Basic Economy or not.

What is Basic Economy?

First of all, let’s clarify what a Basic Economy fare means. These types of fares were first introduced by ultra-low-cost airlines like Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit, which don’t actually call them “Basic Economy”, but this is the language the major carriers have used to differentiate these stripped-down fares from the standard Economy fare.

There isn’t a special cabin for the Basic Economy class. You’ll still be seated in the same cabin and receive the same in-flight services and checked bag fees as passengers who purchase a standard Economy class ticket, but these low fares do come with certain restrictions.

The idea behind a “basic” economy fare is to be able to advertise a really low price that only includes basic transportation. Anything an airline can deem as “optional” is not included in the Basic Economy price and airlines use this opportunity to upsell things you may have thought were included, such as baggage, choosing a seat assignment, or snacks and drinks onboard.

The other main pitfall of Basic Economy is that these tickets are essentially "use it or lose it" tickets on the major carriers such as American, Delta, or United. No changes or upgrades are allowed—not even for a fee.

This means that if your plans change, you’ll simply have to buy a brand-new ticket and just eat the cost of the ticket you can no longer use. Even so, change fees are so high on a standard Economy ticket that you’ll likely be in the same boat between the higher cost of the fare and the additional change fee. Surprisingly, most ultra-low-cost carriers allow changes even on the lowest fares and the change fees are usually much less than what the major carriers charge on standard Economy fares.

Ultra-low-cost carriers mostly offer priority boarding for a fee, but you’ll be in the last boarding group when holding a Basic Economy ticket on the major carriers. Some airlines offer different fare bundles that may include checked bags, seat selection, or flight flexibility.

Now, let’s have a deeper look into what Basic Economy entails for airlines based in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico when traveling within the US/Canada or between the US/Canada and Mexico, Central America, or the Caribbean.

Allegiant

What it’s called: Economy

Carry-on Baggage: $15-$25 when purchased during online booking; FREE personal item up to 7 x 15 x 16 inches.

First Checked Bag: $18-$30 when purchased during online booking.

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat.

Boarding Pass: Print at home or use mobile for FREE; $5 to print your boarding pass with an agent at the airport.

Online Booking Fee: $13 each way “Electronic Carrier Charge” built into price shown online. Save this fee by purchasing your ticket at an airport counter. Bag fees may be higher for tickets purchased at the airport.

Ticket Changes: $75 without Trip Flex; Purchase Trip Flex ($8-$20) during booking for no change fees. No credit will be given for no-shows or cancellations made within 7 days of departure.

Drinks / Snacks: $ Charge for all in-flight drinks and snacks.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles are earned.

Benefits for Allegiant Branded Credit Card Holders: Priority boarding and one free beverage.

Aeromexico

What it’s called: Basic

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag plus a personal item (both can be full-size carry-on with a max combined weight of 22 lbs.)

First Checked Bag: $30

Seat Assignments: Assigned at random.

Ticket Changes: Not allowed more than 24 hours after booking.

Drinks / Snacks: Complimentary drinks (including alcohol) and light snacks.

Upgrades: Not allowed.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles are earned at a reduced rate.

Benefits for Aeromexico Branded Credit Card Holders: One free checked bag.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: No benefits for Basic tickets.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Classic fare includes standard seat selection, ticket changes for a fee, and up to 100% mileage earning.

Air Canada

What it’s called: Economy Basic

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag plus a personal item.

First Checked Bag: $30

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat for both Basic and Standard Economy.

Ticket Changes: Not allowed more than 24 hours after booking.

Drinks / Snacks: Complimentary soft drinks and light snacks.

Upgrades: Not allowed.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: No award miles or elite qualifying miles are earned.

Benefits for Air Canada Branded Credit Card Holders: Certain cardholders may receive a free checked bag, though most Air Canada cards only include a free bag for award travel.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: Air Canada Altitude members will receive their normal benefits such as seat selection and baggage allowances. However, no changes or upgrades will be allowed when traveling on an Economy Basic ticket.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Economy Standard fare allows ticket changes for a fee and earns up to 50% of award miles and elite qualifying miles. Seat selection requires a fee for both Basic and Standard fares.

Air Transat

What it’s called: Eco promo or Eco

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag plus a personal item.

First Checked Bag: $25 when purchased during online booking.

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat.

Ticket Changes: $100 per direction (no changes allowed within 24 hours of travel).

Drinks / Snacks: Complimentary soft drinks and light snacks.

Upgrades: Club seats may be offered for purchase at the airport on your departure day (subject to availability).

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles are earned at the normal rate.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Eco extra fares include standard seat selection and have a reduced $50 change fee.

American

What it’s called: Basic Economy

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag plus a personal item.

First Checked Bag: $30

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat starting 48 hours before departure.

Ticket Changes: Not allowed more than 24 hours after booking.

Drinks / Snacks: Complimentary soft drinks and light snacks.

Upgrades: Not allowed.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles and segments are earned at a 50% reduced rate.

Benefits for American Airlines Branded Credit Card Holders: One free checked bag and higher boarding priority for you and up to 4 travel companions on the same reservation.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: AAdvantage members receive their usual benefits pertaining to free checked bags and boarding priority, but will not be allowed to change or upgrade a Basic Economy ticket.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Main Cabin Economy fare includes standard seat selection during booking, allows ticket changes for a fee, and is eligible for upgrades. The Main Cabin Economy fare also earns the normal allotment of frequent flier miles and elite qualification.

Delta

What it’s called: Basic Economy

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag plus a personal item.

First Checked Bag: $30

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in or at the gate for FREE; You may be able to choose a seat for a fee from one week up to 24 hours before departure or for FREE at check-in, but there is no guarantee that these options will be available. Oftentimes, your seat will be assigned at the gate when traveling on a Basic Economy ticket.

Ticket Changes: Not allowed more than 24 hours after booking.

Drinks / Snacks: Complimentary soft drinks and light snacks.

Upgrades: Not allowed.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles are earned at the normal rate.

Benefits for Delta Branded Credit Card Holders: One free checked bag and priority boarding for you and up to 8 travel companions on the same reservation.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: SkyTeam elite members receive their usual benefits pertaining to free checked bags, priority boarding and check-in, but will not be allowed to change or upgrade a Basic Economy ticket.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Main Cabin Economy fare includes standard seat selection during booking, allows ticket changes for a fee, and is eligible for upgrades.

Flair Air

What it’s called: PROMO or MIN

Carry-on Baggage: $37-$41 CAD when purchased during online booking; FREE personal item up to 6 x 13 x 17 inches.

First Checked Bag: $32-$35 CAD when purchased during online booking.

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat.

Boarding Pass: Print at home for FREE; There is a fee to print your boarding pass with an agent at the airport.

Ticket Changes: $125 CAD without TravelFlex; Purchase TravelFlex ($25 CAD per segment) during booking for no change fees. Any changes must be within 90 days of the original booking flight date.

Drinks / Snacks: $ Charge for all in-flight drinks and snacks.

Other Economy Class Fares & Benefits: MORE fares include one free checked bag and a printed boarding pass. MAX fares include one free carry-on bag, one checked bag, standard seat selection, priority boarding, and a printed boarding pass.

Frontier

What it’s called: Standard Fare

Carry-on Baggage: $30-$35 when purchased during online booking; FREE personal item up to 8 x 14 x 18 inches.

First Checked Bag: $25-$30 when purchased during online booking.

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat.

Online Booking Fee: $4-$19 each way “Carrier Interface Charge” built into price shown online. Save this fee by purchasing your ticket at an airport counter. Bag fees may be higher for tickets purchased at the airport.

Ticket Changes: No change fee if made at least 90 days in advance of travel. $49 from 14 days to 90 days before travel. $99 within 14 days of travel.

Drinks / Snacks: $ Charge for all in-flight drinks and snacks.

Upgrades: Stretch seating is available for purchase.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles are earned.

Benefits for Frontier Branded Credit Card Holders: Priority boarding.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: Elite 20K status members receive a free carry-on bag, seat assignment, priority boarding, and access to stretch seating (if available) at check-in. Elite 50K get all the same benefits plus stretch seating and family seating. Elite 100K gets everything plus one free checked bag and Discount Den membership. Discount Den members receive a discount on airfare.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: The Works bundle can be purchased during booking and includes a carry-on bag plus personal item, one checked bag, seat selection (including stretch seating), priority boarding, flight flexibility (no change fees), and refundability. The Perks bundle can be purchased during or after booking and includes everything from the Works bundle except flight flexibility and refundability.

Interjet

What it’s called: Light

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag plus a personal item (both can be full-size carry-on with a max combined weight of 22 lbs.)

First Checked Bag: $30

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat.

Ticket Changes: $69 per segment; $89 for last minute changes between 4 and 24 hours before your flight.

Drinks / Snacks: Complimentary soft drinks and light snacks.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles are earned.

Benefits for Interjet Branded Credit Card Holders: 33 lbs. of extra checked baggage allowance.

Other Economy Class Fares & Benefits: Optima fare includes one free checked bag and standard seat selection. There is also a lower $35 change fee up to 4 hours before your flight and free same day changes. Priority fare includes two free checked bags, seat selection (including 1st and 2nd row), and has no change fees.

Porter Airlines

What it’s called: Basic

Carry-on Baggage: Standard carry-on bag is not allowed (must be checked). FREE personal item up to 6 x 13 x 17 inches and 20 lbs.

First Checked Bag: $33-$38

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat.

Ticket Changes: Not allowed more than 24 hours after booking.

Drinks / Snacks: Complimentary drinks (including beer and wine) and snacks.

Upgrades: Premium PLUS seats are available for purchase.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Points are earned at a reduced rate.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: VIPorter passport and priority members will still earn points at the normal rate.

Other Economy Class Fares & Benefits: Standard fare includes a standard carry-on bag plus a personal item and allows ticket changes for a fee. Flexible fare includes classic seat selection and has no change fee for changes made at least 90 days before departure and a lower change fee within 45 days.

Spirit

What it’s called: Bare Fare

Carry-on Baggage: $35-$40 when purchased during online booking; FREE personal item up to 8 x 14 x 18 inches.

First Checked Bag: $30-$35 when purchased during online booking.

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat.

Online Booking Fee: $4-$30 each way “Passenger Usage Charge / Fuel Charge” built into price shown online. Save these fees by purchasing your ticket at an airport counter. Bag fees may be higher for tickets purchased at the airport.

Boarding Pass: Print at home, use mobile, or print at airport kiosk for FREE; $10 to print your boarding pass with an agent at the airport.

Ticket Changes: $90 without Flight Flex; Purchase Flight Flex ($35-$45) during booking for one no-fee flight change. Any changes must be made at least 24 hours before departure.

Drinks / Snacks: $ Charge for all in-flight drinks and snacks.

Upgrades: Big Front Seat is available for purchase.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles are earned.

Benefits for Spirit Branded Credit Card Holders: Priority boarding.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: $9 Fare Club members receive discounted fares and bag fees for everyone on the same reservation.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: The Thrills Combo includes a carry-on bag, one checked bag up to 50 lbs. (10 extra lbs.), seat selection (including exit row, but not Big Front Seat), priority boarding, Flight Flex, and double miles.

Sun Country

What it’s called: Grab & Go

Carry-on Baggage: $30 when purchased online; FREE personal item up to 9 x 13 x 17 inches.

First Checked Bag: $30 when purchased online.

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat.

Ticket Changes: $60 per passenger, per segment for changes made 61 days or more before departure. $120 per passenger, per segment for changes made within 60 days of departure.

Drinks / Snacks: Complimentary soft drinks. Snacks and alcohol for sale.

Upgrades: First class upgrades may be available for purchase during check-in, though Sun Country has announced plans to eliminate First Class in its remodeled airplanes.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Points are earned.

Benefits for Sun Country Branded Credit Card Holders: One free checked bag for everyone on the same reservation.

Swoop

What it’s called: Unbundled Fare

Carry-on Baggage: $37-$41 CAD when purchased during online booking; FREE personal item up to 6 x 13 x 16 inches. 

First Checked Bag: $32-$35 CAD when purchased during online booking.

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat. 

Ticket Changes: $100 CAD (plus tax) per person up to 72 hours before departure. 

Drinks / Snacks: $ Charge for all in-flight drinks and snacks.

United

What it’s called: Basic Economy

Carry-on Baggage: Full-sized carry-on bag is not allowed (must be checked). FREE personal item up to 9 x 10 x 17 inches.

First Checked Bag: $30

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; You may be able to choose a standard seat for a fee during booking up until check-in opens.

Check-in: Online check-in is only allowed if you indicate you’re checking a bag. If you’re not checking a bag, you’ll need to finish checking in at the airport.

Ticket Changes: Not allowed more than 24 hours after booking.

Drinks / Snacks: Complimentary soft drinks and light snacks.

Upgrades: Not allowed.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Award miles are earned, but you won’t earn elite qualifying miles, dollars, or segments.

Benefits for United Branded Credit Card Holders: If you purchase using your United card, you’ll receive one free carry-on bag and checked bag for you and one travel companion on the same reservation. You’ll also get priority boarding.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: Premier members and Star Alliance elites receive one free carry-on bag for everyone on the same reservation and the usual benefits pertaining to free checked bags and priority boarding. However, Economy Plus seating, ticket changes, and upgrades are not available for anyone traveling on a Basic Economy ticket.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Standard Economy fare includes a carry-on bag, standard seat selection during booking, allows ticket changes for a fee, and is eligible for upgrades. You’ll also earn elite qualifying miles, dollars, and segments, and be allowed to check-in online without checking a bag.

VivaAerobus

What it’s called: VivaLight

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag plus a personal item with a max combined weight of 22 lbs. $26-$30 for a combined weight up to 33 lbs. when purchased during online booking.

First Checked Bag: $30-$35 up to 44 lbs. when purchased during online booking.

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat.

Boarding Pass: Print at home or use mobile for FREE; $7 to print your boarding pass at the airport.

Ticket Changes: $80 for flights more than 24 hours from departure; $110 from 24 hours up to 4 hours before departure. Purchase Flexi Pass ($10-$12 each way) to be able to make same-day flight changes without a fee.

Drinks / Snacks: $ Charge for all in-flight drinks and snacks.

Benefits for Viva Branded Credit Card Holders: Flexi Pass is included for Viva cardholders.

Other Economy Class Fares & Benefits: VivaBasic fare includes one free checked bag up to 33 lbs. VivaSmart fare includes checked baggage up to 55 lbs., seat selection, priority check-in, priority boarding, and flight flexibility.

Volaris

What it’s called: Clean Base Fare

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag plus a personal item (both can be full-size carry-on with a max combined weight of 22 lbs.) $24 for up to 44 lbs. combined weight when purchased during online booking.

First Checked Bag: $35 when purchased during online booking.

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat.

Ticket Changes: $75 more than 24 hours before departure; $100 between 24 and 4 hours before departure. Purchase a More Flexibility Combo ($36) during online booking for no change fees.

Drinks / Snacks: $ Charge for all in-flight drinks and snacks.

Benefits for Volaris Branded Credit Card Holders: Volaris cardholders receive up to 44 lbs. of carry-on baggage, priority boarding, and may receive one free checked bag.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: v.club members receive discounted fares and bag fees.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Fare + Baggage fare includes one free checked bag up to 55 lbs. More Baggage Combo includes up to 44 lbs. in carry-on bags, one checked bag, and the possibility to travel with a sporting equipment or musical instrument.

WestJet

What it’s called: Econo (Lowest) 

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag plus a personal item.

First Checked Bag: $30

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; You may be able to pay a fee to choose a seat at check-in. 

Ticket Changes: Not allowed more than 24 hours after booking.

Drinks / Snacks: Complimentary soft drinks and light snacks.

Upgrades: Not allowed.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: No miles are earned.

Benefits for WestJet Branded Credit Card Holders: One free checked bag for the cardholder and up to 8 additional guests on the same reservation as long as your WestJet Rewards ID is on the reservation at time of check-in.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: Elite members receive their usual benefits pertaining to free checked bags and priority boarding, but will not be allowed to change or upgrade a Basic Economy ticket.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Econo fare allows ticket changes and seat selection during booking for a fee, and also earns WestJet dollars.

Airlines that Don’t Sell Basic Economy

Currently, there are four major US carriers that have abstained from offering a Basic Economy product. Southwest is the only airline that has never mentioned the possibility and still includes two free checked bags and no change fees in all fares. Hawaiian Airlines does not currently have any plans to implement Basic Economy, but it has been considered.

Alaska Airlines and JetBlue have both announced plans to introduce Basic Economy in the future, but both airlines have yet to start selling this type of fare. Neither airline has outlined the exact restrictions, but I would assume these fares will be similar to Basic Economy on the major carriers such as American and Delta.

Other international carriers that operate flights between the US/Canada and the Caribbean/Central America include Avianca, Caribbean Airlines, and Copa, which include at least one free checked bag in all fares. There are other smaller airlines that fly within this region as well. For a look at bag fees across all airlines, check out our bag fee chart.

Is Basic Economy Cheaper and is it Worth It?

This question is subjective and the best answer I can give is sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. It is true that when Basic Economy was initially rolled out on American, Delta, and United, the lowest fares remained the same for most routes and the Basic Economy price was simply the same price as before, with more restrictions. 

However, routes that were competing with the ultra-low-cost carriers had started to drastically drop in price a year or two before Basic Economy expanded, so prices essentially dropped before the restrictions were implemented on these routes. And lately, I have been seeing many Basic Economy fares from some smaller cities that are much lower than what has been offered in previous years.

Of the three major US carriers, United still stands out as the most restrictive since its version of Basic Economy does not include a carry-on bag. The difference in price between Basic Economy and the next level fare varies by airline, route, and travel dates. It can sometimes be very minimal and definitely worth paying a small amount more for the higher fare class. Other times, it can be a drastic price difference. The larger variances in price usually occur on routes that compete with ultra-low-cost carriers. Either way, holding an airline-branded credit card can sometimes defeat the worst Basic Economy restrictions.

Whether or not it is worth it is up to your travel needs and personal preferences. If the price is right, I don’t mind where I sit on the airplane and I tend to travel light. My main focus when considering Basic Economy is figuring out how much baggage I need, how flexible my travel plans can be or need to be, and the difference in price between Basic Economy and standard Economy.

Tips for Flying Basic Economy

  • Pack light.
  • Pay for baggage fees during booking if the option is available.
  • Compare total cost with other airlines and other fares before booking.
  • Don’t have high expectations other than getting to your destination safely.
  • Bring your own entertainment or snacks if necessary.

Related Article: A New Look at Basic Economy for Transatlantic International Travel

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