How to Survive Basic Economy on Delta Air Lines

Aug 6, 2018

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To help you cope with flying in Basic Economy, we are publishing a mini-series of guides to the lowest fare class on all three US legacy airlines. Last week, we published the guide to American Airlines, and next week you’ll find the United Airlines version.

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.

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 co-branded 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.

Can I check a bag?

Yes, but it’s going to cost you (see the price chart here). Baggage fees are the same for Basic Economy, Economy and Comfort+ passengers on most routes that currently sell Basic Economy fares; one notable exception is flights between the US/Canada region and the Europe/North Africa region. On these flights, the first checked bag will cost Basic Economy passengers $60 while it’s free for Main Cabin and Comfort+ passengers. 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.

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.

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 can usually 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.

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.

Does having a co-branded credit card help?

Yes, having a co-branded 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:

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 when flying on Basic Economy fares.

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 co-branded 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 Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express provides Priority Boarding and the first bag checked free for up to nine passengers traveling on the same reservation. This means the card’s $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year, could quickly pay for itself if you or your travel companions travel frequently with checked baggage.

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

Featured image by Benji Stawski / The Points Guy

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

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