Booking a Basic Economy Fare — Reader Mistake Story

Sep 14, 2017

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We often publish stories from readers that illustrate how points and miles can help you get where you want to go. However, it’s important to learn from our mistakes as well as our successes, so I’m calling on you to send us your most epic travel failure stories. Email them to and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, we’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure!

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Bradley, who missed some key information about his fare class while booking flights through a travel portal. Here’s what he had to say:

I booked a weekend trip to Atlanta through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, redeeming 13,626 points for a round-trip Delta flight from my home in Wisconsin. My job often requires me to travel at the last minute, but I figured if my travel plans changed, I could just change my tickets to fly into Atlanta from wherever I was working that week.

My work plans did end up changing, so I needed to fly from Denver instead of my home airport in Wisconsin, and I still needed to get home from Atlanta to Wisconsin at the end of the weekend. Upon calling Delta to change my itinerary, the agent I spoke with informed me that I had purchased a basic economy ticket, so no changes were allowed. I didn’t catch any mention of this on the Chase website — I may have missed it, but I don’t remember any warning.

I was also told that if I didn’t show up for the first flight, then my second flight (home from Atlanta) would automatically be canceled. With my work schedule being inflexible, I didn’t have much of a choice. My work covered a one-way ticket on American from Denver to Atlanta, but I had to pay $200 out of pocket to get home, and I lost the Ultimate Rewards points I had originally used to book my flight (although Chase is working with me to get some of those points back).

The moral of this story for me is to check your fare class when you buy airfare through a travel portal. The next time I book through Ultimate Rewards, I’ll try to do it over the phone to make sure I’m buying the right ticket. I’ll also be avoiding basic economy fares, because even if a ticket is nonrefundable, there may be other changes I can make to salvage its value.

Delta’s basic economy fares are generally ineligible for changes or refunds.

One of the drawbacks of basic economy fares is that you can’t make changes to your itinerary, even if you’re willing to pay a change or cancellation fee. Once you’re past the 24-hour cancellation window, your ticket becomes totally inflexible, so basic economy isn’t a good idea if your plans aren’t certain.

Delta, United and American do a good job of indicating basic economy fares on their own websites, but online travel agencies are inconsistent. Priceline doesn’t specify basic economy in its search results — you only get a warning in fine print at the bottom of the screen after you select a specific itinerary. The Citi ThankYou travel portal lists several restrictions that apply, but doesn’t list fare classes or otherwise identify fares as basic economy. Those warnings are easy to miss if you’re not looking for them.

For its part, the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal is clear about basic economy fares. The fare class is specified in the search results, and upon selecting a basic economy flight, a pop-up window explains the various restrictions and requires your consent before you can proceed. Even if Bradley should have recognized what he was buying, his suggestion is a good one. Check your fare class, and if you want to avoid basic economy, then stay away from E on Delta, N on United, and B on American.

For more on basic economy fares, check out these posts:

The Ultimate Rewards travel portal warns when you select a basic economy fare.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Bradley for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

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