As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently had to book flights for us on routes that offered Basic Economy fares. After studying up on what the restrictions were for each airline and taking into consideration the details of each trip, I decided to book the basic fare for one of the trips and paid the extra money for “regular” economy for the other.

The following is a breakdown of how I made my decisions:

Flight 1: MCO-ORD (Orlando to Chicago-O’Hare)

This was the flight I had to rebook due to a change in plans. I had previously booked a flight on Southwest for this trip but when I needed to change our flight dates, I took advantage of Southwest’s generous cancellation policy and looked for lower fares on Google Flights. I found that for the date we needed to fly, United offered the best price, which was almost $50 per person less than the fare on Southwest. There was one issue –  the fare shown was for Basic Economy. As I mentioned before, United has some of the most restrictive Basic Economy fares of the three major airlines.


United has the most restrictive Basic Economy fares of all the major airlines. By InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA (United Airlines – N797UA Uploaded by Altair78) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

I knew that our trip to Chicago would only be for the weekend and we would want to not check luggage and only travel with our roll-aboard carry on bags, if possible. With Basic Economy fares on United, your one carry on must fit under the seat in front of you or it needs to be stored with checked luggage. United also does not allow you to pick your seats with basic economy fares, even if there are other open seats on the plane. So you might sit near other people in your party, but you probably won’t. Frankly, I didn’t feel like being buried in a middle seat for a 3 hour flight.

With these negatives, I held my nose and paid United the extra $15 ransom for an Economy fare. I paid for the flights with my United MileagePlus® Explorer Card* that gives cardholders priority boarding in Group 2, before other passengers with economy tickets. It  also gives me a free checked bag, but I will not need that for this trip. (*This link provides me a referral bonus if you apply for the card)

I wasn’t willing to put up with all of the restrictions United places on Basic Economy fares just to save the extra $15, but even with the added price, the fare was still $35 less expensive than other airlines.

Flight 2: MCO-CHA (Orlando – Chattanooga)

I previously wrote about this flight when I was deciding if I should book a flight on Allegiant. As it turned out, shortly after that post, Delta lowered their fare on the route so we went ahead and booked it right away. I had already learned the hard way, on past trips, that you need to act fast if you see a good price, before the airfare changes it again. Mission accomplished.


Delta plane preparing for takeoff at Atlanta airport

Once again, the lowest fare shown was for a Basic Economy fare for flights from Orlando to Atlanta to Chattanooga. While these would both be relatively short flights, I still wanted to see what we were allowed (or not allowed) with the most restrictive Delta fare.


Not such a bad routing (map courtesy of Great Circle Mapper)

Unlike as it is with United, you ARE permitted to bring a roll-aboard carry on bag with a Basic Economy fare. Another difference is that you can pick your seat; just not until you are checking in for your flight (something that you can do 24 hours ahead of time). I did a little searching and figured out the types of planes we would be flying. I found out that  both of our flights between Orlando and Atlanta will be on Airbus A321 aircraft (we just flew one of these planes on the same route and even a middle seat would be comfortable for the hour flight). The flights between Atlanta and Chattanooga would be on a 717-200 which has 3-2 seating (three seats on one side of the aisle and two seats on the other) one way and a CRJ-900 with 2-2 seating on the other. So we’d only have a one in five chance of a middle seat on the one plane, and the other jet doesn’t have any middle seats (by the way, I strongly recommend getting to know the website SeatGuru. It gives seating plans of all the airlines and helps you pick seats based on other passengers comments).

With us being able to bring our carry on bags with us and acceptable (albeit limited) choice of our seats, I went ahead and booked the Basic Economy flights on Delta. I’ll see how it goes and let you know whether it was worth it or not. I didn’t mention this because I’m not worried about status, but the Basic Economy fares on United do NOT count towards qualifying for elite status while Delta does count miles flown on Basic Economy fares. Just one more thing to note that neither Delta nor United allow elite members to upgrade seats purchased with Basic Economy fares.

Have you ever flown on a Basic Economy fare? How did it go? Would you do it again or would you pay the extra money for a plain Economy ticket the next time? Let us know in the comments here or write to us on Facebook or Twitter.

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