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United Details Bare-Bones Basic Economy Fares

Nov. 15, 2016
4 min read
United Details Bare-Bones Basic Economy Fares
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Update 1/18/17: As USA Today reports, Minneapolis will likely be the first destination to get United's new basic economy fare — it could roll out there later this quarter. More domestic flights will follow, along with flights to the Caribbean and eventually long-haul destinations.

Update 11/15/16 12:03PM: We just found out a bit more about Basic Economy fare restrictions —MileagePlus members will not earn any elite-qualifying credit, including miles, segments or even elite-qualifying dollars (which doesn't make much sense). Below is the full scoop from United:


On December 1, United's rolling out a much-improved business-class product, with new lounges, better food and beverage options, branded bedding and more. But while United's most profitable customers have Polaris to look forward to, those who typically fly in coach will have a new option to avoid: Basic Economy.

Delta was the first legacy carrier to launch such a product, which you may know as "E" class. These fares exclude seat assignments, complimentary (or paid) upgrades, same-day changes and other benefits that coach passengers would otherwise expect. American is planning to launch a similar product next year. United, however, has been a bit mum on the subject, but following today's investor presentation, the cat's now out of the bag.

United's new Basic Economy fares will go on sale early next year for travel beginning in the second quarter. It's not clear if these fares will come at a lower price than what we're seeing today, or if the current lowest fares will become "Basic Economy." Either way, these fares come along with a lot of restrictions, which you can see outlined below:


Once you're on the plane, the economy experience won't be any different than what you have today — for non-elite passengers, at least. Elites (and everyone else) traveling on these fares won't have access to advance seat selection, Economy Plus or first-class upgrades. Flight changes will not be permitted, even with a fee. Additionally, Basic Economy passengers won't earn elite-qualifying miles (but they will earn redeemable miles based on the fare), and they'll board in the last group (unless they have priority boarding from status or a credit card, such as the United MileagePlus Explorer Card). The biggest change of all, however, is that Basic Economy fares do not include an overhead carry-on bag. If you're traveling with a small rolling bag, you're going to have to check it. That said, there is an exception:

MileagePlus Premier members and certain credit card members will retain boarding priority and be permitted an overhead carry-on bag.

So if you're an elite member you will still be able to bring aboard a rolling carry-on, but you won't earn EQMs and you won't have any chance of upgrading. My hope is that these fares are even cheaper than what we have today, and today's lowest fares will still fall into the "Economy" bucket. We'll know in a few weeks...

The other big story today is that United's "evaluating" premium economy. American's premium economy is already flying (here's our review) and Delta's version will launch next year. It looks like United is considering adding another cabin of its own, but details are very light at this point. From the slide below, it does appear that premium economy would be offered on both domestic and international flights, if United opts to launch it at all.

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Overall, today hasn't brought great news. The only way Basic Economy will be an appealing addition is if these flights are priced at levels far below what we're used to today, but that's unlikely to be the case. Instead, you might end up paying more to retain the benefits you currently enjoy as an elite member, such as Economy Plus and first class upgrades, same-day flight changes, elite-qualifying mile earning and more.

Will you be avoiding United's new Basic Economy fares?

H/T: Edward Russell

Featured image by IAN ALLEN 2013