Basic Economy fares appear to be here to stay, and there’s plenty to gnash our teeth over about them. There’s been a lot of attention surrounding Basic Economy fares. The vast majority of it isn’t good. But, how much extra will it really cost to avoid Basic Economy on your next flight? First, a quick background on Basic Economy:
Delta started the trend, restricting things like seat assignments and upgrades for people buying these new “cheapest fares”. United followed, and cut deeper than Delta did. In addition to Delta’s restrictions, they didn’t allow carry-on bags (amongst other pain points).
American mostly mimicked Delta and United, though they allowed some elite earning on Basic Economy fares. However, they explicitly said that in the case of travel disruption, you’ll be at the back of the line for finding a new flight. They are at least nice enough to allow you to upgrade without penalty if you book Basic Economy by mistake.
I was on Fox News recently debating Basic Economy with Leland Vitter. Leland argued we should be happy, since fares are still really cheap to get across country (or even to Europe).
I saw a Tweet this morning that made me start wondering how bad things could get with Basic Economy fares. Cheap fares are available, but what if you’re a business traveler that can’t/won’t book Basic Economy? We’ll get to one of the most egregious examples I’ve seen, but here’s some basic spreads on Basic Economy, straight from the United Airlines website:
Newark-San Diego has a handful of nonstop options that price out at $25 more per segment for the spread between Basic Economy and Economy. When I added in a connection, the spread grows to $35.
Newark-Tucson is a connecting market. Not sure if it was a trend, but it was one of about half a dozen markets where Denver was a “cheaper” connecting city when you considered the spread between Basic Economy and Economy. Houston and San Francisco were generally bigger spreads than Denver.
My home airport actually saw some of the smaller gaps, including “only” $20 for flights connecting through Denver.
Dulles to Seattle has both nonstop and connecting options. As you can see, all the nonstop options had a $25 spread. The connecting options were also pretty similar, though a few bounced up to $40.
On whole, I saw prices that leaned more towards $25-$40, where $15 or $20 seemed more typical when Basic Economy was rolled out on United a couple of months ago. Nowhere near a complete set of data, but interesting to me nonetheless.
How Much Could It Cost To Avoid Basic Economy?
I’m an avid fan of The Flight Deal. I follow them on Twitter and keep an eye out for great fares to places I want to go. Earlier this morning, I saw this Tweet from them:
United want you to pay $280 more to move from Basic Economy to Regular Economy. The Basic Economy fare is $195. Yeah, not happening. pic.twitter.com/LS8MpORNj4
— The Flight Deal (@TheFlightDeal) May 31, 2017
They noted a short time later that the spread had gone up to $420. This was a flight from Dallas (DFW) to Fresno (FAT). I did a bunch of searches and couldn’t replicate this until……
Yikes! That’s a $445 gap. And, I have no idea why they’re offering the fare. I couldn’t find a competing low-cost carrier offering anything even close to that price. The cheapest I found on the traditional carriers were easily a couple hundred bucks more expensive.
Error? Algorithm tweaking? Testing customer behavior?
Moral of the story? Basic Economy is on so many routes right now, nonstop and connecting. The pricing is starting to vary in a slightly wider range, and there are definitely big exceptions.
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