Get ready for a new airline fare: Basic Economy

by October 29, 2014
A check-in area at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Photo by Benét J. Wilson

A check-in area at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Photo by Benét J. Wilson

To first class, business class, economy plus and plain old economy, add a new airfare terminology: basic economy.

That might sound like an oxymoron, but the idea has been hovering for a while now. In June 2012, I wrote a post on my personal blog about how Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines was going to start testing what it called “Basic Economy” fares. In exchange for rock-bottom fares, travelers couldn’t make any changes to their itinerary, nor could they choose seats in advance.

The Basic Economy fares were tested on routes that Delta competed on with Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines. These cities included Detroit to Orlando, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa.

It seems like that test was a success, because Delta has decided to expand Basic Economy fares beginning next February. Travelers will give up a lot in exchange for those low fares.

  • They will be unable to make same-day confirmed or same-day standby travel changes, regardless of Delta Sky Miles Medallion or other elite status;
  • Fares are non-refundable, except due to involuntary cases such as weather or operational problems;
  • No advanced seat selection; instead seats are automatically assigned at check-in;
  • Travelers cannot buy Economy Comfort or Preferred seats, nor are they eligible for free upgrades to first or business class.
  • Basic Economy customers board last, with limited access to overhead bins
  • But premium Medallion customers, those with elite status, and Delta SkyMiles American Express credit card holders can keep their priority boarding even with Basic Economy.

Delta is now offering Basic Economy fares from its Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Salt Lake City hubs to 21 cities, including Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Florida, New Orleans,  Las Vegas, and Austin, Texas.

After seeing how Spirit Airlines was able to offer ultra-low fares to passengers in exchange for myriad fees ranging from carry-on bags to seat assignments, most airlines followed suit as a way to get the revenue they weren’t getting from air fares.

IdeaWorks Company and CarTrawler released a report in October 2013 that estimated that airline fees would bring in $23.7 billion. This revenue came from optional services, including onboard sales of food and beverages, checked baggage, premium seat assignments and early boarding benefits.

Travelers may hate this trend, but airlines tend to follow suit when they see something like basic economy works. So don’t be surprised to see this fare type show up on other airlines.


If you decide to follow up, check out these resources.

Airlines For America

International Air Transport Association

masFlight aviation data

Benét J. Wilson is co-editor of and blogs at She has been an aviation/travel journalist for more than 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @AvQueenBenet