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Ready or Not! United and American have Launched Their Basic Economy Fares

I wish this announcement was more exciting, sadly it is turning into more of a warning. United and American airlines have finally opened booking of their basic economy fares.

 

United keeps it basic

Our friends at United will now allow us to book their basic econ fares. You will find availability for flights departing April 18th and on. Oddly, United is limiting this rollout to nonstop flights to and from Minneapolis. They say they want to “ensure a smooth transition”.

United’s basic econ fare restricts you to a single “personal item” onboard, no full size carry-on allowed. If you book a basic econ fare and show up with a “full size carry-on”, they will charge you to check a bag PLUS a $25 gate handling fee. Keep in mind, any bag over 17″ x 10″ x 9″ will constitute as full-sized carry-on, so pack lightly.

Word to the wise, don’t book basic econ if you are not going to honor the restrictions. It may end up costing you more in the long run if you bring a large bag or need to change your flight.

 

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United basic economy “warning” when booking

 

Is it cheaper?

Based on my shopping-around, it doesn’t appear that United is any cheaper than Delta on their “basic economy” routes. I tested SFO to MSP and DEN to MSP, in both instances Delta and United were priced identically.

In these scenarios, United only matched Delta’s fares by offering basic economy, United’s standard economy fares were $15-$25 more. With Delta offering “regular economy” for the same price as United basic, it would be a no-brainer to book with Delta.

Delta regular economy compared to United Basic economy would give you;
– Improved boarding position
– Two carry-on bags
– Seat selection at time of purchase
– Increased mileage earning + MQM/PQM

 

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Delta regular econ offers MUCH more than United basic econ – for the same price in this scenario

Google Flights to the rescue

If you are going to book one of United’s seven basic econ routes to/from MSP, make sure to shop on Google Flights first. Google Flights will now show you when there are carry-on restrictions. We know these restrictions already apply to Frontier and Spirit, but keep an eye out now for United and American basic econ limitations.

 

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Google Flights alerts you now when your fare-class/flight has baggage restrictions

American goes basic, too

Basic fares have also been launched over at American Airlines today. American is also rolling this out in limited markets, obviously with some routes shared by either Spirit or Frontier.

American routes offering basic economy fares:
— New Orleans (MSY) – Philadelphia (PHL)
— Orlando (MCO) – Charlotte (CLT)
— Charlotte (CLT) – Philadelphia (PHL)
— Miami (MIA) – Philadelphia (PHL)
— Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) – Philadelphia (PHL)
— Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) – Tampa (TPA)
— Baltimore-Washington (BWI) – Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
— Miami (MIA) – Tampa (TPA)

 

American Airlines basic econ, with my testing, was more expensive than Frontier on almost every flight. On a one-way flight from PHL to MIA, American was priced almost twice as much as Frontier.

 

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Frontier versus American Airlines basic economy

 

Here are the benefits of booking American basic economy over Frontier:
– Free snacks and drinks (Frontier charges for everything)
– More legroom (Frontier seats are very cramped)
– Free streaming movies on AA flights with WiFi

 

Low-Cost-Carrier or American Basic Economy?

American “basic” still has the upper-hand on low-cost-carriers, like Frontier and Spirit, when it comes to included amenities. American Airlines basic is priced roughly $15-$20 cheaper than their standard coach fares. For $15-$20 more for American regular economy you’re allowed to bring a second carry-on bag and choose a seat in advance.

 

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American’s “warning” to potential basic econ travelers (Tampa to Miami scenario)

 

So what have we discovered? You will want to shop pricing and included amenities before pulling the trigger. If you benefit from having two carry-on bags, consider paying a little more for a standard economy fare with American or United. (Delta’s basic economy still includes two carry-on bags)

Don’t forget that airline credit cards typically include a free checked bag and improved boarding position. If you hold an airline co-branded card with a checked bag waiver, save the $20 by booking basic economy and just use your free checked bag. Happy travels!