No miles for you! Beware as Delta changes its basic economy rules, again

Dec 9, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with a statement from Delta.

If you’re the type of traveler who usually books the lowest fare possible, listen up. Delta just added several major restrictions that might make you think twice about booking its basic economy fares.

Overnight, the Atlanta-based carrier discreetly added a note to its website that basic economy fares will no longer earn award miles in the SkyMiles program or earn credit toward Medallion elite status. The change is effective for tickets purchased on or after Dec. 9, 2021, for flights departing on or after Jan. 1, 2022.

On top of that, Delta is ending its flexible travel waiver for basic economy but introducing a new cancellation option.

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No more SkyMiles or Medallion-qualifying credit for basic economy

Up until now, Delta’s basic economy fares still earned Medallion Qualification Miles, Medallion Qualification Segments and Medallion Qualification Dollars as they would on a normal discounted economy fare. That meant at least 5 miles per dollar spent on airfare, MQDs based on the amount spent and MQMs and MQSs based on how much you flew. However, that will no longer be the case moving forward.

Although Delta announced that it will continue to award elite-qualifying credit for award tickets in 2022, newly booked basic economy flights will be excluded.

Delta 757 economy
(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Delta was the first legacy airline to offer basic economy fares and will also be the first to add such restrictions. In January 2021, American Airlines stopped awarding elite-qualifying miles, segments and dollars on basic economy fares but continues to offer award miles. Meanwhile, United still awards miles based on the fare and your MileagePlus status, as well as full Premier qualifying points, lifetime miles and credit toward the four-segment minimum.

As of now, you can still earn 20% of mileage flown when crediting basic economy fares to Air France-KLM Flying Blue and 50% of the miles flown when crediting to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if these programs eliminate earnings for Delta basic economy as well.

Related: Comparing basic economy fares across US airlines

Basic economy fares can now be canceled — with a catch

When COVID-19 came stateside in early 2020, airlines introduced travel waivers that allowed all tickets, including basic economy, to be modified without any fees. However, with vaccines becoming more accessible and travel picking up again, airlines began letting those waivers expire over the last couple of months.

Delta has been one of the more generous carriers, extending its basic economy flexibility waiver for flights through Dec. 31, 2021. Unfortunately, though, that flexibility is going away.

Starting in 2022, Delta basic economy fares will no longer be changeable. However, they won’t be as restrictive as they were pre-pandemic.

Related: Delta just made basic economy tickets fully flexible once again, but why?

Delta check-in area
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Moving forward, basic economy fares will be cancelable for 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. That’s worth $147 and $295, respectively based on TPG’s data-backed valuations. Delta has confirmed to TPG that these fees will not be waived for elites. Pre-pandemic, Platinum and Diamond elites used to have exclusive access to free award cancellation. That said, Delta shared with TPG that only 2% of basic economy purchasers are Medallion elite members.

A Delta spokesperson also provided the following statement:

Basic Economy fares were designed for those who prioritize price, and we know that even our most price-conscious customers value flexibility. Those who need to cancel their Basic Economy trip will be able to conveniently adjust their plans through or the Fly Delta app and may apply a portion of the cancelled ticket value to their future travel.

By comparison, United allows travelers to upgrade basic economy tickets to standard economy, and thus make them freely cancelable, for as little as $45.

Bottom line

Although it was the first airline to introduce them, Delta’s basic economy fares historically haven’t been all that bad. Guests could still bring a full-size carry-on plus a smaller personal item and receive the same food and service that you would if you bought a regular ticket.

However, with today’s announcement (or lack thereof), Delta’s basic economy fares will be far more restrictive than some competitors — at least on the loyalty side. On the flip side, Delta basic economy flights will permanently offer more flexibility than other basic economy fares, albeit for an additional fee.

When American Airlines removed the ability to earn elite-qualifying credit on basic economy fares, it added the ability for elites to enjoy all their usual perks, including upgrade privileges and free (or discounted) seats. It also added the ability for general travelers to pay extra for seats and priority boarding.

While it’s nice in theory that Delta is allowing cancellations for basic economy fares, $99 is a significant fee, especially considering how low some domestic fares are these days. It’s also disappointing that  the cancelation fee for basic economy awards will not be waived for Platinum or Diamond elites.

Although you still won’t be able to pay for upgrades to premium seats or priority boarding, you will still be able to defeat some of basic economy’s negative aspects with a cobranded Delta credit card. Most Delta credit cards will get you your first checked bag free and priority boarding.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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