If I book a basic economy ticket with a partner airline, will my credit card still get me a free checked bag?

Oct 1, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

While basic economy has been around in the U.S. for several years now, it’s starting to expand to more and more international carriers as well. For flexible travelers who pack light this can mean lower fares, while other passengers might find themselves getting charged more for benefits like seat selection and carry-on bags that used to be free. TPG reader Clive wants to know if he can get around the restrictions of basic economy on a partner airline by using a credit card from a U.S. carrier …

I’m booking a ticket from San Francisco to London through Delta, but flying in Virgin Atlantic basic economy. If I pay with my Delta card, will Virgin Atlantic still make me pay to check a bag?

TPG READER CLIVE

Basic economy has been an interesting case study in airline marketing policies. While airlines have advertised these new bare-bones fares as “providing more choices to cost conscious consumers,” in most cases basic economy costs the same as discount economy tickets used to, and passengers need to pay more to get the same benefits they’re used to. The goal of basic economy is to provide an additional revenue stream for airlines, so it makes sense that they give a pass to customers who are already engaging with them in a profitable way, such as by holding a cobranded airline credit card.

Delta, United and American Airlines all differ in terms of how restrictive their basic economy fares are, but each allows passengers to get around some of the worst restrictions by carrying a cobranded credit card (usually in the form of free checked bags and priority boarding). For example, Delta credit card holders who purchase a basic economy ticket for flights operated by Delta board in group 5 instead of group 8 and are still allowed one free checked bag.

Related: How to use credit cards to defeat basic economy

Unfortunately, this exception does not extend to partner airlines. That means if you purchase a basic economy fare on a SkyTeam airline or another carrier like Virgin Atlantic that has an individual partnership with Delta, your Delta credit card won’t help you out. Even if you buy a regular economy ticket, the first checked bag free that Delta’s credit cards offer is only valid on Delta flights. In other words, Clive will still have to pay for a checked bag on his Virgin Atlantic economy light fare despite being a Delta credit card holder.

While the U.S. legacy carriers are incredibly similar in terms of the way they award miles for flights, allow members to qualify for elite status and even how they price award flights, basic economy is much less standardized. As mentioned above, the three legacy U.S. carriers each have different answers to the question of “just how bad is basic economy,” and many international airlines have come up with slightly different variations as well. One potential workaround is if you have elite status within a major alliance (Star Alliance, Oneworld or SkyTeam), where your elite baggage benefits might outweigh the restrictions of your cheap basic economy fare. Of course this varies heavily depending on what status level you hold, how you earned it and what airline you’re flying with, and it’s a moot point for Clive anyways since Virgin Atlantic is not a member of SkyTeam.

Bottom line

Despite the incredibly close relationship between Delta and Virgin Atlantic, holding a Delta credit card won’t earn you a free checked bag when you book a Virgin Atlantic economy light fare. The U.S. airlines have made it easy to avoid the worst of basic economy by holding the right credit card, but these cards generally won’t help you when flying international basic economy on a partner airline.

Thanks for the question, Clive, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.