United makes basic economy slightly less restrictive

Aug 25, 2020

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.

Each of the three major U.S. airlines offers a basic economy fare. With this pricing strategy, the mainline carriers have more closely matched the fares of low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit by stripping out many of the inclusions you’d typically get with a regular economy ticket.

United’s offering is the most restrictive of any U.S. airline. Of the many restrictions, seat assignments aren’t included in your purchase. Historically, they could be purchased anytime before check-in or you’d get one assigned for free during check-in. But this policy has always excluded extra-legroom Economy Plus seating.

For more travel tips and news, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Well, the carrier has made a (small) positive update. Beginning Wednesday, Aug. 26, basic economy customers will be able to purchase an Economy Plus seat at check-in, an airline spokesperson confirmed to TPG. This means that those who’d like a little extra legroom can pay for the privilege 24 hours before their flight.

United Economy Plus on the Boeing 757 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

While United Premier elites can typically assign Economy Plus seating for free, those who purchase basic economy fares can’t partake in that benefit. Sadly, that’s not changing with today’s policy update. (Likewise, Economy Plus subscriptions can’t be applied to basic economy bookings.)

As before, customers can purchase regular coach and preferred seats anytime after booking. Economy Plus seats can’t be purchased until check-in though. If you choose not to purchase a seat, you’ll be auto-assigned one during the check-in process.

While this is definitely good news for those who’d like to purchase a little more space, note that once travel demand picks up again (and elites take to the air), there will likely be very few extra legroom seats left when check-in opens. Most times, it’s typically just a few scattered middle seats available. But if you can score an aisle or window, it could definitely make sense to upgrade.

Related: How to use credit cards to defeat Basic Economy

Unfortunately, United’s basic economy fares still have a bunch of other restrictions. You can’t take a full-sized carry-on bag, or even pay for the privilege, unless they have United elite status, are Star Alliance Gold members, are United MileagePlus cardholders or are flying on a transatlantic route.

Additionally, you can’t typically make ticket changes at any price, and you’ll earn reduced credit toward elite status and award miles. However, due to the coronavirus, United has a change-fee waiver that includes basic economy tickets. For tickets issued between March 3 and Aug. 31, 2020, there are no change fees.

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

To avoid some of the basic economy restrictions, you’ll want to make sure that you have a co-branded United card. United Explorer Card members receive a free checked bag and priority boarding, while those with the United Infinite Club Card receive a second free checked bag, priority check-in, security and baggage handling.

United Economy Plus seats on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Your other alternative is to fly with American Airlines or Delta. Both of those carriers allow you to bring a full-sized carry-on bag on a basic economy ticket. 

Either way, if you choose to fly on a United basic economy fare, at least you’ll now have the option to purchase an Economy Plus seat at check-in.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.