A New Look at Basic Economy for Transatlantic International Travel

Basic Economy is not limited to domestic and short-haul flights. The rapid expansion of low-cost airlines crossing the Atlantic has caused the legacy carriers to implement Basic Economy fares on long-haul international travel as well.

Comparing Basic Economy Fares for Transatlantic Travel

To help you plan your trip across the pond and save you from surprise fees, I’ll go over each airline’s policies for baggage, seat assignments, meals, and more, as they pertain to Basic Economy tickets.

What does Basic Economy Mean for Transatlantic Travel?

Basic Economy (or Economy Light) for transatlantic flights is slightly different than it is for domestic and short-haul international flights. The main difference is that pretty much all airlines include a normal carry-on baggage allowance for Basic Economy tickets when traveling across the Atlantic. The most notable exception is WOW Air, which only includes a small personal item in its lowest fares.

The Basic Economy frenzy hit the transatlantic market when low-cost airlines­ like Norwegian and WOW Air started selling no-frills flights from the U.S. and Canada to Europe for as little as $69 or $99 one-way. Of course, these unheard-of prices don’t include anything other than basic transportation and a small amount of carry-on luggage. Everything else, such as checked bags, choosing a specific seat, and in-flight meals, costs extra.

Checked bag fees have been the standard for domestic travel for years now and it was only a matter of time before these fees would become standard on long-haul international travel as well. In April 2018, Delta and SkyTeam partners became the first major airlines to charge for the first checked bag on flights between North America and Europe on Basic Economy fares.

As is the case with most other fees in the airline industry, all other major airline alliances followed suit and we now live in a time where most of the lowest fares you see to Europe­ do not include any free checked bags. On the legacy carriers, these checked bag fees only apply for Basic Economy (or Economy Light) tickets. If you purchase a standard Economy fare on the major carriers, one checked bag is still included.

There are also other restrictions on Basic Economy fares, which vary by airline. The low-cost carriers have fees for everything that can be deemed an “optional” service. In contrast, the legacy carriers' Basic Economy fares have restrictions that simply don’t allow certain services such as ticket changes or upgrades, but still include the same in-flight meal services as a standard Economy ticket.

Listed below, you'll find more details on each airline’s policies for Basic Economy tickets from the US/Canada on transatlantic flights to Europe and North Africa.

American / Oneworld (British Airways, Iberia, Finnair)

What it’s called: Basic Economy on American, British Airways, and Iberia; Economy Light on Finnair.

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

First Checked Bag: $60 ($55 on British Airways, Iberia, or Finnair if pre-booked online.)

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

Ticket Changes: Allowed for a fee.

Food and Beverage: Meals and drinks are included.

Upgrades: Not allowed.

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

Benefits for Airline-Branded Credit Card Holders: Priority boarding. Fee for the first checked bag will still apply.

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 upgrade a Basic Economy ticket. Elite benefits may vary for flights marketed and/or operated by British Airways, Iberia, or Finnair. British Airways elites have free seat selection starting one week before departure.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Main Cabin (Standard) Economy fare includes one free checked bag, standard seat selection, and is eligible for upgrades. The Main Cabin (Standard) Economy fare also earns the normal allotment of frequent flier miles and elite qualification.

Delta / SkyTeam (Air France, Air Europa, Alitalia, KLM) and Virgin Atlantic

What it’s called: Basic Economy on Delta; Economy Light on Air France, Air Europa, Alitalia, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic.

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

First Checked Bag: $60

Seat Assignments: Auto-assigned at check-in for FREE; There is a fee if you want to choose your seat. You can pay the seat fee during booking on the European carriers. On Delta, 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.

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

Food and Beverage: Meals and drinks are included.

Upgrades: Not allowed.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles may be earned at a reduced rate on some airlines.

Benefits for Airline-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, seat selection, 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 (Standard) Economy fare includes one free checked bag, standard seat selection, allows ticket changes for a fee, and is eligible for upgrades.

United / Star Alliance (Air Canada, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss)

What it’s called: Economy (1st checked bag charge/no changes) on United; Economy Basic on Air Canada, Economy Light on Austrian, Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa, and Swiss.

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag plus a personal item. Lufthansa Group airlines (Lufthansa, Austrian, Brussels, and Swiss) have a lower than usual weight limit of 17.6 lbs. for your carry-on bag.

First Checked Bag: $60

Seat Assignments: Standard seat selection is included on United. Other airlines will auto-assign seats at check-in for FREE or you may pay a fee to choose your seat.

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

Food and Beverage: Meals and drinks are included.

Upgrades: Not allowed.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Earn up to 25% miles on Air Canada. On other airlines, mileage accrual is based on ticket spend amount. Elite qualifying credit is earned on all airlines.

Benefits for Airline-Branded Credit Card Holders: Chase MileagePlus cardholders receive one free checked bag.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: Premier members and Star Alliance Gold members receive their usual benefits pertaining to free checked bags and priority boarding. However, Economy Plus seating and upgrades are not available for anyone traveling on a Basic Economy ticket.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Standard Economy fare includes one checked bag, allows ticket changes for a fee, and is eligible for upgrades. This fare type is called Economy Basic on Lufthansa and Economy Saver on Swiss and Austrian.

Aer Lingus

What it’s called: Saver (only sold to/from Ireland)

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

First Checked Bag: $45-$60 to/from Ireland.

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

Ticket Changes: $150-$210

Food and Beverage: Meals and drinks are included.

Upgrades: Eligible for upgrades.

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

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Smart fare includes one checked bag, standard seat selection, headphones, and a blanket. All Aer Lingus Economy fares between North America and the UK/Europe are Smart fares. Saver fares are only sold on flights to/from Ireland.

Air Italy

What it’s called: Light

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag up to 17.6 lbs. plus a personal item.

First Checked Bag: $50

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

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

Food and Beverage: One free welcome drink. $ Charge for in-flight meals.

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

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Classic fare includes one free checked bag and allows ticket changes for a fee.

Air Transat

What it’s called: Eco promo or Eco

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

First Checked Bag: One free checked bag for travel through March 31, 2019. $55 when purchased during online booking for travel starting April 1, 2019, onward.

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

Ticket Changes: $300-$350

Food and Beverage: Meals and drinks are included.

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 fare includes standard seat selection and has a reduced $150 change fee.

Condor / Thomas Cook

What it’s calledEconomy Light

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag up to 13 lbs. plus a personal item.

First Checked Bag: $70 when purchased online.

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

Check-In: FREE online check-in; There is a 25 EUR fee to check-in at an airport counter.

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

Food and Beverage: Meals and drinks are included.

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

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Standard Economy fare includes one free checked bag, free airport check-in, and allows ticket changes for a fee.

Eurowings

What it’s called: Basic

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag up to 17.6 lbs. plus a personal item.

First Checked Bag: $60 when purchased during online booking.

Seat Assignments: Standard seating.

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

Food and Beverage: $ Charge for meals.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles are earned.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Smart fare includes one free checked bag, an in-flight meal, preferred seating, and allows ticket changes for a fee.

French Bee

What it’s called: Basic

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

First Checked Bag: $45 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 for both Basic and Smart fares.

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

Food and Beverage: $ Charge for meals.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Smart fare includes one free checked bag, an in-flight meal, and allows ticket changes for a fee.

Icelandair

What it’s called: Economy Light

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

First Checked Bag: $55-$76 when purchased during online booking.

Seat Assignments: Standard seat selection is included.

Ticket Changes: $300

Stopover: Up to 3 days. 

Food and Beverage: $ Charge for meals for both Basic and Standard fares. Complimentary soft drinks.

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

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Economy Standard fare includes one free checked bag, a reduced $150 ticket change fee, standard mileage accrual, and stopovers up to 7 days.

Level

What it’s called: Economy

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

First Checked Bag: $44 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: $200

Food and Beverage: $ Charge for meals, drinks, and snacks onboard.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles are earned at a reduced rate. No elite qualification is earned.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Premium fare includes one free checked bag, an in-flight meal, snacks, drinks, and a wider seat with extra legroom.

Norwegian

What it’s called: LowFare

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag plus a personal item with a max combined weight of 22 lbs.

First Checked Bag: $45 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: $130

Food and Beverage: $ Charge for meals, drinks, and snacks onboard.

Upgrades: Premium seats may be available for purchase.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: LowFare+ includes one free checked bag, seat reservation, and meals onboard.

TAP Air Portugal

What it’s called: Discount

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag up to 17.6 lbs. plus a personal item up to 4.4 lbs.

First Checked Bag: $88 (Always cheaper to purchase the next level “Basic” fare, which includes one free checked bag)

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.

Food and Beverage: Meals and drinks are included. 

Upgrades: Not allowed.

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: Miles are earned at a reduced rate. Only 10% of miles are earned.

Benefits for Elite Airline Status: Star Alliance Gold members receive one free checked bag and priority boarding.

Other Economy Class Fares & Benefits: Basic fare includes one free checked bag, 50% of miles are earned, and ticket changes are allowed for a fee. Classic fare includes two free checked bags, free standard seat selection, earns 100% of miles, and allows ticket changes for a fee.

TUI Fly

What it’s called: Standard fare

Carry-on Baggage: FREE carry-on bag up to 11 lbs. Laptops, handbags, and items bought at the airport must fit within your 1 piece of hand luggage.

First Checked Bag: $25-$40 when purchased during online booking. This is an approximate conversion. Fees will be charged in Euros and higher fees apply for heavy bags.

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

Ticket Changes: Allowed for a fee.

Food and Beverage: Standard meal is included. Charge for a special meal.

Upgrades: Comfort seats are available for purchase. 

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: Comfort service bundle includes more carry-on weight, 55 lbs. of checked baggage, more leg room, high-quality meals, extra drinks, and an entertainment system. 

WestJet

What it’s called: Econo (Lowest) 

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

First Checked Bag: $30-$36

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.

Food and Beverage: Complimentary soft drinks. $ Charge for premium food and beverage.

Upgrades: Not allowed. 

Award Miles and Elite Qualification: No miles are earned.

Benefits for Airline-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.

WOW Air

What it’s called: WOW basic

Carry-on Baggage: $45-$55 when purchased during online booking.

First Checked Bag: $55-$70 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: $150

Food and Beverage: $ Charge for meals, drinks, and snacks onboard.

Upgrades: Premium seats may be available for purchase.

Other Economy Class Fare & Benefits: WOW plus fare includes one carry-on bag, one checked bag, and standard seat selection.

XL Airways 

What it’s called: Eco Promo

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

First Checked Bag: One FREE checked bag is included.

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

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

Food and Beverage: Meals and drinks are included.

Other Economy Class Fares & Benefits: Eco Standard fare allows ticket changes for a $175 fee. Eco Flexible fare includes seat selection and has a lower $50 change fee.

Airlines that Don’t Sell Basic Economy on Transatlantic Flights

While most airlines are now selling bare-bones tickets on transatlantic flights, there are a few airlines where you can always expect to have at least one free checked bag on a flight to Europe. These airlines don’t have widespread service from North America, but if you live near a major hub city, look for flights on Aeroflot, Air Serbia, Azores AirlinesEdelweiss, Emirates, La Compagnie, LOT Polish AirlinesRoyal Air Maroc, SAS Scandinavian AirlinesTurkish Airlines, and Ukraine International Airlines to guarantee a checked baggage allowance of at least one bag.

Some of these airlines may offer a Basic Economy or Light fare on certain routes, but flights originating in North America are currently only sold as standard Economy fares. 

Is Basic Economy Cheaper and is it Worth It?

Since most airlines include a standard carry-on bag plus a personal item for Basic Economy fares on transatlantic routes, these low fares can be used by a larger number of travelers than a domestic Basic Economy ticket. 

However, if you need to check a bag, you’ll want to make sure you compare the price of a Basic Economy ticket with the price of a standard Economy ticket. Oftentimes, the difference in price on the major airlines is around $90-$100 roundtrip (i.e. less than what you’d pay for a checked bag on a Basic Economy ticket), so make sure you read the fine print to know what type of ticket you are purchasing and choose according to your needs.

Of course, the difference in cost between Basic Economy and standard Economy varies by route, airline, and travel dates, and can sometimes be the same price or a minimal difference that most people would find to be worthwhile. Other times, it can be hundreds of dollars more for a standard Economy ticket. Bottom line, always compare. 

I have seen a lot more flash sales to Europe since Basic Economy was rolled out by all the major airlines. For this reason, I would say that it has brought down the average price on flights to Europe. It appears the airlines are still testing out this type of fare on transatlantic travel. During some flash sales, I’ve noticed the lowest price can sometimes be standard Economy from many cities and Basic Economy from others. The airlines may be testing price points and markets to determine when travelers decide to purchase Basic Economy or not.

Basic Economy can definitely be worth the savings on transatlantic travel. This is especially true if you need to fly one-way and are willing to fly on a low-cost carrier. Most LCCs sell cheap one-way fares that don't require roundtrip travel, while the legacy airlines still require a roundtrip purchase to get the best fares.

Personally, it's rare that I need to check a bag and I don’t mind taking my chances on which seat I get. Sure, you might get stuck in the middle or seated separately from your travel companions, but to me, it’s not worth paying $100 more just to have a chance at choosing a window or aisle seat. I’d rather spend that money on another trip or at my destination.

Tips for Flying Basic Economy Across the Atlantic

  • Pack light. Some airlines have weight limits for carry-on baggage.
  • 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 and eat a good meal before flying long-haul.

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

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