How to survive basic economy on Delta Air Lines

Feb 11, 2020

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If you’re preparing for a trip and notice you’ve booked a basic economy fare on Delta Air Lines, you may have a lot of questions about what this fare allows and how your experience may be different from any previous trips you’ve taken with Delta. This guide aims to answer all of your questions.

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In This Post

What’s Delta basic economy?

Delta has three types of economy fares: Comfort+, Main Cabin and basic economy. Basic economy provides a lower-priced fare but places restrictions or fees on seat assignment, upgrades, changes and — for some destinations — checked baggage. This guide will answer common questions about these restrictions and the basic economy experience on Delta, but be sure to also check out TPG’s review of Delta’s basic economy.

Note that some basic economy restrictions are waived for elites and cardholders of Delta cobranded credit cards. So, if you fall into either of these groups, see the specific section related to your group to see which restrictions are waived for you.

Related reading: Comparing basic economy fares across U.S. airlines

Can I check a bag?

Yes, but it’s going to cost you (see the price chart here). Baggage fees are generally the same for basic economy, economy and Comfort+ passengers on most routes that currently sell basic economy fares. Some notable exceptions are below:

  • U.S. and El Salvador, Ecuador, Panama ($30 for basic economy)
  • U.S. and South America, excluding Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Guyana ($60 for basic economy)
  • U.S. and Canada and Tahiti ($60 for basic economy)
  • U.S. and Colombia ($30 for basic economy)
  • U.S. and Israel ($60 for basic economy)
  • U.S. and Canada and Europe and North Africa ($60 for basic economy)
  • Mexico and Europe ($60 for basic economy)

On these flights, the first checked bag will cost basic economy passengers between $30-60 while it’s free for Main Cabin and Comfort+ passengers. The second checked bag for basic economy passengers will cost even more. As Delta expands its basic economy fares worldwide, expect to see more cases like this where baggage fees exist for basic economy fares but not Main Cabin and Comfort+ fares.

Related related: How to avoid checked baggage fees on major domestic airlines

Can I bring a carry-on?

Yes, you’re always allowed one carry-on bag that’s no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches and one personal item such as a purse, briefcase, camera bag or diaper bag. Note that because you’ll probably board last (more on that below), overhead bin space may be limited, so your carry-on bag may be gate checked. You won’t have to pay if your bag is gate checked.

Can I select a seat?

Yes, but it might cost you. From seven days to 24 hours before departure, it’s possible to pay to select seats on itineraries that are fully domestic. Pricing varies by trip and may be purchased leg by leg.

Flying internationally, or don’t want to pay? If non-preferred seats remain at check-in, you’ll get a seat assignment for free. Reports show that you may be able to choose your seat for free at this time. However, if no non-preferred seats remain, you’ll be assigned a seat shortly before boarding.

Travelers on the same reservation — including families with young children — aren’t guaranteed to be seated together unless they pay to select seats together. You might luck out by checking in exactly 24 hours before departure, but there’s a risk you won’t sit together.

When can I board?

You’ll board in the last group. Basic economy passengers can’t purchase Priority Boarding.

Can I change my flight?

No, changes — including same-day confirmed or same-day standby travel changes — aren’t allowed for basic economy fares.

Basic economy seats are not in a separate section, but you may be assigned an undesirable middle seat at the back of the plane. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

Can I cancel my flight?

No, except for when the ticket is canceled within 24 hours of purchase or the cancellation is involuntary.

Do I still earn miles?

Yes. Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) are calculated as they would be on a normal discounted economy fare.

Related: What is Delta elite status worth?

Does having a cobranded credit card help?

Yes, having a cobranded Delta credit card can help you defeat basic economy. As a cardholder you’ll get the following benefits even when flying on a basic economy fare:

  • First checked bag free (for you and up to eight other passengers traveling with you on the same reservation)
  • Priority boarding

Note that you only need to have the card — you don’t have to purchase your ticket with the card. If you’re looking for a card that provides these benefits, consider getting one of the following cards (eligible when flying with Delta):

Does having elite status help?

Yes. When flying on a basic economy fare, Delta Medallion elites and SkyTeam elites receive many of the same benefits they’d get on normal Main Cabin fares:

  • Waived checked baggage fees: always at least one free checked bag, more for some itineraries and for some elite levels
  • Priority check-in
  • Priority boarding
  • Medallion mileage bonuses

However, Medallion Members will not receive paid or complimentary upgrades (such as Comfort+ or Preferred Seats) when flying on basic economy fares.

Related reading: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on Delta

Bottom line

Delta Air Lines basic economy fares come with restrictions on seat selection and boarding zone, plus they don’t allow for upgrades or a free checked bag. On the positive side, you can always bring a personal item and carry-on bag, earning rates aren’t slashed for basic economy fares and it’s often possible to select your seat once check-in opens 24 hours before departure.

The Delta basic economy experience can be made better with elite status or an eligible cobranded Delta Air Lines credit card. Elite members and cardholders maintain the baggage allowance and boarding zone provided by their elite status or eligible credit card. In particular, having a credit card like the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card provides priority boarding and the first bag checked free for up to nine passengers traveling on the same reservation. This means the card’s $99 annual fee, which is waived the first year, could quickly pay for itself if you or your travel companions travel frequently with checked baggage.

You can also check out our guides to basic economy on American Airlines and United Airlines.

If you’re new to The Points Guy, check out our points and miles guide for beginners.

Additional reporting by Benét J.Wilson

Featured photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Business Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Business Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business Card, please click here.

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