United’s Expanding Basic Economy to Hawaii and Latin America

Jun 13, 2017

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There’s been a fair amount of confusion surrounding American, Delta and especially United’s basic economy fares, in part due to how the airlines have opted to market this new “product.” Make no mistake — basic economy does not offer any savings over previous fares.

Rather, as a result, passengers are now forced to pay as much as $50 more on a round-trip ticket to avoid basic economy — not $50 less than what flights used to cost. So a transcon flight that cost $500 earlier this year doesn’t cost $450 in basic economy now — instead, basic economy is now $500, and you’ll need to pay $550 for a round-trip in regular coach. That means more money for the airlines, and either fewer benefits for consumers (and, in some cases, business travelers), or a much higher price for perks that used to be included just a few months ago.

United’s basic economy rollout is by far the most egregious, since these fares are “available” even when only full-fare economy fares remain, resulting in outrageous basic economy fares (like this EWR-PIT example below):

While American and Delta still limit basic economy to specific routes and/or the lowest economy fares, United basic economy is now available on all domestic flights, including those with connections. But one US hotspot has been in the safe zone — until now.

As aviation reporter Edward Russell shared today, United’s CFO has confirmed that basic economy will roll out to Hawaii later this year, with destinations in Latin America getting the basic economy treatment as well. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the buy-up amount climb well beyond $25 each way on some of the airline’s longest Hawaii flights, such as Newark or Washington, D.C. to Honolulu.

So what’s the upside? There isn’t one, beyond the fact that basic economy has yet to roll out to these markets. In other words, if you’re planning to book a United flight to Hawaii or Latin America, you’ll want to do so sooner than later, assuming you’re able to find a good fare. If you wait, that $850 EWR-HNL “S-class” nonstop could run you $850 for United’s basic economy “N” fare once the airline rolls this product out later in 2017, in which case you could end up spending considerably more to buy the same “S” class flight you can book for $850 today.

Of course, you could also vote with your wallet, opting to purchase a flight operated by American, Delta or Hawaiian, instead — assuming they don’t follow United’s lead, of course.

Has basic economy changed the way you book coach fares?

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