What You Need to Know Before Booking Your Basic Economy Flight

by joeheg

Basic Economy fares are here to stay. While the basics of these fares have stayed the same, airlines change some of the details from time to time.

Below is the breakdown for each airline when flying a domestic U.S. route. Please keep in mind that these restrictions can change frequently, so it’s important to check the airline websites through the provided links to confirm the information. Rules for international flights booked in Basic Economy may be different and can be found on each airline’s website.

American Airlines – Basic Economy


When you book a Basic Economy ticket with American, here’s what you get:

  • You can board with 1 carry-on and 1 personal item. The carry-on item must fit in the overhead bin and be no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 in (56 x 36 x 23 cm). The personal item, like a purse or small handbag, must fit under the seat in front of you and be no larger than 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm). Carry-on requirements apply to all customers including AAdvantage status members.
  • You can choose a specific seat at any time for a fee (complimentary for AAdvantage elite members based on your status). Otherwise, seats will be automatically assigned for free at check-in. We can’t guarantee that companions on the same ticket will be seated together.
  • If you’re a family traveling with children under 15, and do not already have seats assigned, our system will search for seats together automatically before the day of departure. We’ll try our best to keep you together, but if seats are limited, we’ll assign seats so children under 15 are next to at least 1 adult.
  • Change of plans? We allow same-day confirmed changes on select flights for a fee, with some exceptions.
  • Customers can stand by for a flight at no charge.
  • Board in the last group (Group 9)

American does have some exemptions for elite members of their AAdvantage program and those who hold a co-branded American Airlines credit card. They can:

  • Upgrade privileges
  • Complimentary Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seat benefits based on AAdvantage status
  • Complimentary confirmed same-day flight changes for Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro members
  • Priority or preferred boarding privileges
  • Checked bag benefits

When it comes to earning miles for your flights or qualifying for status, you’ll earn full redeemable miles but will get no qualifying credit for elite status.

  • Award miles earn based on ticket price (includes base fare plus carrier-imposed fees; excludes government-imposed taxes and fees) on flights marketed and operated by American.
  • Basic Economy tickets will earn award miles at a rate of 2 miles per dollar in addition to Loyalty Points. Status members bonus percentages will apply to the base mileage rate of 2 miles per dollar on American and other select partner airlines.

Delta Airlines – Basic Economy

Delta Air Lines N130DL by Richard Snyder from San Jose, CA is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A basic economy ticket on Delta comes with the following restrictions.

  • Seats will be assigned after check-in and trip flexibility is limited. Changes are not allowed for flights originating in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean after the Risk-Free Cancellation Period.
  • You will not be eligible for: paid or complimentary upgrades; paid, complimentary or discounted Delta Comfort+; paid or complimentary Preferred Seats; or same-day confirmed or same-day standby travel changes.
  • Complimentary carry-on bag. Due to crowded flights, some carry-on bags may be gate checked, free of charge, during the boarding process and returned upon deplaning.
  • No miles earned; no credit toward SkyMiles Medallion Status
  • You will board in with Zone 8, the last zone of Delta’s updated Boarding Order – Elite flyers or cardholders of an eligible SkyMiles credit card will retain their boarding status when booking basic economy fares.

Frequent Delta flyers and cardholders of the co-branded Delta SkyMiles American Express cards get some benefits when flying basic economy:

  • If you have a Delta SkyMiles Gold, Platinum or Reserve Card from American Express, you receive your First Bag Free on Delta flights booked with your SkyMiles Credit Card. The benefit extends to up to 8 travel companions, who must be listed on the Card Member’s reservation — for a total of 9 passengers.
  • A Medallion Member traveling in Delta Comfort+®, Main Cabin or Basic Economy between the U.S./Canada and any International destination can check one additional bag up to 50 lbs. over the standard cabin allowance.

United Airlines – Basic Economy


United has some of the harshest restrictions on its Basic Economy passengers.

  • Seats are automatically assigned prior to boarding and can’t be changed. Customers traveling together, including families, will not be able to sit together. Advance seat assignments may be available for purchase during booking and up until check-in opens.
  • Travelers with Basic Economy fares who are MileagePlus members, including Premier members, will not be eligible to use paid upgrades, mileage upgrades, Complimentary Premier Upgrades, PlusPoints upgrades or any other upgrade types. Complimentary Economy Plus seating will not be available for MileagePlus Premier members.
  • Basic Economy tickets are nonrefundable and non-changeable except as allowed by our 24-hour flexible booking policy. They can’t be combined with any other fare type. They have no value if canceled or unused. They may be eligible for partial travel credit if canceled prior to departure.
  • For Basic Economy tickets, you’re not allowed a full-sized carry-on bag unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, the primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card or a Star Alliance™ Gold member. Everyone else who brings a full-sized carry-on bag to the gate will be required to check their bag and pay the applicable checked bag fee plus a $25 gate handling charge.
  • For Basic Economy tickets, you’re allowed one small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, such as a shoulder bag, purse, laptop bag or other small item that is 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm) or less. Mobility aids and other assistive devices are also permitted. View our bag policies. You’re not allowed a full-sized carry-on bag unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card or Star Alliance Gold member. Everyone else who brings a full-sized carry-on bag to the gate will be required to check their bag and pay the applicable checked bag fee plus a $25 gate handling charge. (Exception: On trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights, your carry-on bag allowance is the same as for standard Economy tickets.)
  • With Basic Economy, you’ll only be able to check in for your flight through united.com or the United app if you indicate that you’re checking a bag. To check your bag, you’ll go to a check-in counter or designated kiosk in the airport lobby. If you begin check-in and do not indicate that you’re checking a bag, you’ll need to finish checking in for your flight at the airport.
  • If you’re a MileagePlus member, you will earn full Premier qualifying points and no Premier qualifying flights. They will still earn award miles based on the fare and their MileagePlus status, lifetime miles and toward the four-segment minimum.
  • Travelers with Basic Economy fares will be assigned to the last boarding group, with the exception of MileagePlus Premier members and their companions on the same reservation, primary cardmembers of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card and Star Alliance Gold members. Passengers requiring special assistance will be able to pre-board the aircraft.
  • If you’ve already purchased a Basic Economy ticket but find it too restrictive, you may have the option to add the benefits of a United Economy fare for a service charge. This will allow you to enjoy many of the features of United Economy, including the option to change or cancel your flight without paying a change fee, the option to bring one full-size carry-on on board, complimentary seat assignment before check-in and the ability to upgrade to Economy Plus or a premium cabin seat.

Alaska Airlines – Saver Fares

Alaska Airlines

Alaska chose to name their bare-bones ticket differently but don’t let the name fool you, this is still a restrictive ticket.

  • Seats will be assigned at check-in.
  • We can’t guarantee that parties of two or more will be seated together.
  • No refunds are allowed beyond the first 24 hours after ticketing. For tickets purchased on or after July 19, 2023, Saver fares are eligible for a 50% credit if cancelled at least 14 days before departure of the first flight on the ticket.
  • No changes, including same-day confirmed changes, are allowed for Saver fares.
  • No standby is allowed for Saver fares, even for elite status guests.
  • If a guest is a no-show for any flight during a trip, all other flights within that trip are automatically canceled, with no refund available.
  • Saver fares cannot be combined with any other fare types on the same itinerary.
  • Saver fares are non-transferable.
  • Passengers are allowed one carry-on + one personal item. Overhead bin space is on a first-come, first-served basis. Elite Mileage Plan passengers keep Elite boarding status.

JetBlue – Blue Basic

a blue airplane on a runway

JetBlue introduced its low-cost ticket in 2019 and tweaked the rules for flights after July 20, 2021.

  • There’s a fee for selecting your seats more than 24 hours prior to departure (you can still choose from the remaining Core seats at check-in for free).
  • You’ll board with one of the last boarding groups. (Except for Mosaics and those who have purchased an Even More Space seat.)
  • Cancellations are subject to a fee of $100 within the U.S., Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, or $200 for other routes, (fare difference may apply), even if you have Mosaic status.
  • Blue Basic fares do not allow a carry-on bag, but you may bring a personal item that fits under the seat in front of you on board. Carry-on bags brought to the gate will need to be checked and incur a fee of $65 (if it would be your 1st or 2nd checked bag) or $180 (if it’s your 3rd).
  • Mosaic members, travelers to/from U.K./Europe (including connecting flights), travelers combining a Blue Basic fare with an Even More Space seat (on all legs, if connecting), active U.S. military and unaccompanied minors may still bring a carry-on bag.
  • You’ll earn 1 TrueBlue point per dollar spent—or 2 points if you booked on jetblue.com or the JetBlue app


Airlines sure don’t make it easy to know what you’re getting yourself into when you buy a basic economy seat. If you’re considering buying one of these seats (or now redeeming points for one of them, no thanks to Delta for that option), here are some of the takeaways:

  • United and JetBlue do not allow carry-on bags in the overhead bin. However, all the airlines warn that since you’ll be boarding last, there may not be any space in the overhead bins, and you may (most likely) have to check the bag at the gate.
  • With these fares, you’ll usually have to pay if you want to pick a seat in advance, if you have that option at all. Only American guarantees that at least one parent/guardian will be seated next to a child under 15.

Certain travelers might not mind these restrictions. For example, if you’re a frequent flyer with status or have an airline credit card, you’ll keep your preferred boarding and ability to bring a full-size carry-on for the overhead, except for JetBlue co-brand cardholders.

Then, who are these fares bad for? They are terrible for families since they’re most likely the customers buying solely based on price. This is why you have a situation like I had on a United flight. These passengers aren’t going to know the rules of basic economy fares. In fairness, airlines have strengthened the language to stress the downsides of these fares, telling families or people wanting to sit together simply not to purchase basic economy. It seems that instead of offering a lower fare to value customers, airlines have imposed extra costs and fees upon families going on a vacation they’ve been saving up (or going into debt) to take.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

disdadisdisdis April 5, 2021 - 5:20 am

Very helpful write-up, thanks.

For me personally, I would have to rank the US legacies when it comes to basic eco from AA (best) to UA (worst).

As an BAEC elite (OW Sapphire), AA is wonderful. Almost all elite benefits are given. And, if you credit to BA, you even earn the same credit towards elite status as in regular main cabin.

DL is more of a mixed bag. For short haul, I may accept the restrictions and purchase basic eco. For mid haul, I grudgingly pay up and purchase main cabin so I can get complimentary upgrade privileges and such as a Delta medallion. For long haul, I typically resort to a workaround: I purchase the lowest fares offered by Delta’s joint-venture partners. These are considerably less restrictive. For instance, if I buy an “economy light” on Air France, I retain most elite benefits, including the ability to reserve exit row free of charge right after booking (as Platinum medallion).

UA is the most problematic. No easy workarounds despite having Star Gold status. I try to avoid UA completely in situations where seating privileges matter to me and the upcharge for regular economy is non-trivial.


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