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How to survive basic economy on Delta Air Lines

March 02, 2022
9 min read
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

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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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. Also, since early 2022, basic economy flights no longer earn Delta miles. 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)

Basic economy flights to the following countries and regions do allow one free checked bag:

  • Asia
  • Australia and New Zealand
  • Brazil
  • Southern and West Africa
  • India

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

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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. Delta will not count items like jackets, umbrellas, or medical devices as your permitted personal item. Note that because you'll probably board last (more on that below), overhead bin space may be limited.

Also bear in mind that with new efforts to reduce touchpoints on board, flight attendants can no longer help passengers stow their bags overhead. If overhead space is unavailable, your carry-on bag may be gate-checked. Don't worry, though—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. If you don’t purchase a seat assignment, Delta will assign you one after check-in.

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?

Within the 24-hour risk-free cancellation period, you can change your flight; however, you will still have to pay any price difference. After 24 hours of purchasing the ticket, you cannot change your flight.

delta-back-rear-economy-main-cabin-seat-seating-airplane-cabin
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?

Yes.

You can cancel a basic economy ticket within 24 hours of purchase or if the cancellation is involuntary for a full refund.

For voluntary cancellations, you'll receive a partial travel credit. Basic economy fares for domestic flights or flights to the Caribbean, Central America or Mexico will be subject to a $99 fee deducted from the value of your ticket. Meanwhile, basic economy travel originating in the U.S. or Canada to any other international destination will be subject to a $199 fee.

On basic economy award tickets, the cancellation charge is 9,900 miles for domestic travel (within the United States and Canada) and 19,900 miles for international travel.

Do I still earn miles?

No. In January 2022, Delta changed its policy to exclude basic economy travelers from earning miles on its Skymiles program. Customers who want to earn Delta miles will have to buy a Main Cabin ticket.

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

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, and this type of ticket doesn’t allow for upgrades or a free checked bag. Moreover, with recent policy changes, basic economy flights no longer earn miles.

On the positive side, basic economy passengers can always bring a personal item and carry-on bag, and Delta has made it slightly easier to change or cancel basic economy flights. In other words, if you’re traveling light and willing to sacrifice some comfort to save money, Delta basic economy might make sense.

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 your introductory annual fee for the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card will be $0 for your first year of Card Membership. After the first year, your annual fee will be $99, and 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

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.

Featured image by Delta Main Cabin economy seating
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023