A Very Real, Very Negative Consequence Of Basic Economy Fares

There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the new Basic Economy fares that American Airlines and United are in the process of rolling out. Delta is ahead of both of them in this endeavor to match airlines like Spirit and Frontier.  American and United had the benefit of watching Delta for a while before deciding how to enter the market with their products.

There are already some painful consequences of booking basic economy fares.  Travelers on American Airlines need to understand they’ll be at the back of the pack in the case of travel disruptions.  That can lead to lengthy delays.  But, I was reading something over the weekend that made me smack my head for not realizing it myself.

Beware Of Purchasing Tickets Using “Points”

Flexible points have become a huge part of the travel world.  I’m a big proponent of a number of credit cards that earn flexible points.  My original favorite in this category is/was the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card.  With a couple dozen airline transfer partners and a really aggressive transfer ratio, it’s been a solid part of my earning strategy for over a decade.

Side note: The sign-up bonus for that card right now is at an all-time high of 35,000 points right now.  I don’t have an affiliate link for this card, so no ulterior motive.  Just a great way to earn points.

Basic Economy Fares

Some of the more popular cards right now are those that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points (including Chase Sapphire and Chase Ink, both in my wallet).  The new Chase Sapphire Reserve card means even higher earnings in the travel space, which may encourage more folks to use those points to “buy” a ticket instead of transferring the points to a partner like United Airlines.

Mommy Points details why you might be in for a nasty surprise the next time you purchase a ticket using your points.  To summarize, buying tickets using your points through a portal like Chase Ultimate Rewards means Chase will purchase the cheapest ticket available.  In the case of United or American, that includes routes where Basic Economy is sold.

Unsurprisingly, sites like Ultimate Rewards don’t appear to be marking this as clearly as they could just yet.  To be clear, I’ve never purchased an airline ticket using points through one of those portals.  I find more value transferring it to the airline or hotel partner of my choice.  That takes a bit more work, but I’m used to it.

The Final Two Pennies

I totally understand the allure of booking tickets using your points.  When you consider the travel bonuses for some cards, it can be a good value.  That’s especially true if you don’t have flexibility on your travel dates.

We already knew about some bad parts of Basic Economy.  Travelers now have another variable to think about when planning award travel.  Navigating the world of miles and points is complicated for those that don’t do it frequently.  Nuances like this will only make customers more frustrated.  The moral of the story here is to be careful.  If an airline is selling Basic Economy on your chosen route, try calling and booking over the phone.  Be aware what the current Basic Economy price is for your choice of flights before you get started.

The post A Very Real, Very Negative Consequence Of Basic Economy Fares was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. Is it possible to use points to buy tickets through Amex, Chase, Citi etc and then call the airline and “upfare”…either to a non-basic economy fare or to a premium cabin? I know I’ve been able to use Citi TY points to book an economy ticket, then called and upfared at a later time to first..when prices dropped. I know basic economy are supposed to be non-changeable…but wonder if upfaring is allowed.

    1. Shaun, from my reading you can, in at least some instances, call the credit card booking agency (Chase UR, for example) and ask them to book a higher fare class. I haven’t tried to call in and upfare a Basic Economy fare since I’m not their key demographic. But, I’ll see if I can pose the hypothetical question.

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