United’s Basic Economy: Charging $25 one-way to earn miles towards Premier status

I am not a fan of the new “Basic Economy” option being offered by United, Delta, and American Airlines. Though it’s being presented a way for fliers to save money (Delta, for example, advertises it as Basic Economy: Save with a Low Fare) my guess, and experience so far, is that fares for economy will remain the same, but with consumers paying extra for experiences they once took for granted.

This happened to me yesterday when I was booking my flights to Charleston for the Great American Eclipse. I found a relatively good fare from CHS to SFO for around $180 after taxes. I found this fare on Google Flights, but when I went to book it on United, it let me know that it was Basic Economy. With Basic Economy, I’d be without the following options:

  • Possibility to upgrade my seat
  • Selecting a seat before boarding
  • Earning PQM (Premier qualifying miles which go towards United Premier status)
  • Bringing aboard a  full-sized carry-on bag

The full list of what you’re giving up by taking a Basic Economy flight on United can be found HERE.

Although I am not sure how pricing works for other routes, I was given a $25 one-way option ($50 round-trip) to switch my ticket to regular Economy, bringing the total up to $205. Begrudgingly, I accepted this option; by earning miles on this particular flight, I will secure Premier Silver status on United until 2019.

For whatever it’s worth, Delta’s options are not much better – they charged me $20 to go from Basic Economy to Main Cabin for my flight from SFO to CHS, for basically the same benefits. I paid this too, mostly because I wanted to selected a seat before boarding and don’t want to risk being in the middle.

I believe that Basic Economy is a race to the bottom for American airlines, which already lag so far behind many foreign airlines in service. But, unfortunately, I also believe this is a change that will stay, that other airlines (Alaska, Southwest) will follow suit, and also that airlines may begin offering basic fares in business class (which, depending how it’s implemented, I could see myself getting behind).

 

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