United’s Pro-Consumer Basic Economy Update

Jul 5, 2017

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In May, I wrote about the bizarre way United had opted to roll out its new basic-economy product. Rather than offering its highly restrictive basic-economy fares only for deep-discounted tickets, as American and Delta had done, United chose to make basic economy available on almost all domestic flights, even those that were clearly only accessible to deep-pocketed business travelers, such as a ~$1,200 round-trip from Newark to Pittsburgh.

That move made United’s flights far less appealing than American and Delta’s, especially on routes where AA and DL offered comparable service. So the wait was on — either the other two legacy carriers would follow in UA’s footsteps, or United would (in my opinion) be forced to change its approach. Fortunately, American and Delta held fast — as of today, it appears that United has tweaked its strategy for the better.

Take this one-way flight from Newark (EWR) to Los Angeles (LAX), for example:

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A few days ago, basic economy would have been “available” on all of these flights — now you can only get it when deep-discounted economy is for sale. In this case, the basic economy “N” fare class is available on flights that have “T” deep-discount economy for sale, but not “W” class. This is very good news.

As for that crazy Newark-Pittsburgh fare? Basic economy doesn’t even show up as an option anymore, and the fare is now much cheaper even in the full-fare “B” class than it had been in basic economy “N” — $950 round-trip for full-fare coach, rather than the $1,172 I had seen for basic economy in May.

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While we’d all love to see basic economy disappear entirely, overall this is fantastic news — business travelers purchasing last-minute tickets may not see these fares at all now, nor will leisure flyers be forced to book more expensive economy flights.

Will this United basic economy boost make you more likely to book UA flights in the future?

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