United’s basic economy tickets are no longer ‘use it or lose it’

Jun 23, 2021

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United just relaxed a major restriction with its basic economy fares.

Historically, when airlines introduced these fares, they stripped out many of the traditional inclusions with coach tickets, like advance seat assignments and carry-on bags, for a lower price than regular economy.

Another major restriction with these tickets was that they’re also “use it or lose it” — if you needed to move your flight by a day or switch your departure airport, you’d be forced to purchase a whole new ticket.

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Well, that’s no longer the case for United’s basic economy fares. The Chicago-based carrier just added a way for flyers locked into these restrictive fares to make itinerary modifications, as confirmed by a carrier spokesperson.

If you purchased a basic economy ticket and you need to make changes, you can purchase a “Switch to Economy” upgrade. Once you’ve upgraded, you’ll be able to make changes to your ticket.

After paying the non-refundable upgrade fee, you won’t pay any additional change fees or service charges to switch to a new flight of equal or lesser value. Note that if the new flight is more expensive than your current ticket, you’ll be charged the fare difference between the original fare and the new fare.

United basic economy tickets can now be changed for a fee (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

You’ll also receive a future travel credit if you switch to a cheaper flight, but note that the upgrade fee is not included in the calculation of your fare.

Also, once you’ve upgraded, you can cancel your flight and use the value of your fare towards future travel before your ticket’s expiration date. You won’t receive a refund back to your original form of payment unless the flight is canceled or significantly delayed by United.

Note that basic economy tickets are covered by United’s 24-hour flexible booking policy. If you notice you need to cancel your ticket within 24 hours of booking, you can request a refund, even for the most restrictive tickets. After the 24-hour window, you’ll need to purchase the “Switch to Economy” offer to make itinerary modifications.

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

While the “Switch to Economy” upgrade offer now includes changes for United’s basic economy tickets, it also comes with some other valuable benefits that were first introduced when the program launched in February 2021.

In addition to including itinerary changes and modifications, switching to standard coach will allow you to:

  • Bring a full-sized carry-on item.
  • Receive a complimentary seat assignment prior to check-in, with the ability to further upgrade to an extra-legroom seat or first-class recliner.
  • Enjoy Premier elite benefits, like free extra-legroom seats and upgrades.
  • Earn Premier Qualifying Flight (PQF) credit.

For an upcoming flight from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Denver (DEN), United was charging $119 for basic economy and $159 for a standard coach ticket. The “Switch to Economy” upgrade offer was $45, a five-buck surcharge compared to the fare difference between the two tickets.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

If you’re comfortable with all the other basic economy restrictions, it could definitely make sense to stick with basic economy, and only upgrade to standard coach if your plans ultimately change.

You’ll find the option to upgrade when managing your flight on the United website or mobile app. Note that you won’t earn Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) on the non-refundable upgrade service charge.

The option to upgrade to coach is limited to domestic tickets and short-haul international flights to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.

While every major U.S. airline introduced a no-change-fee policy in late 2020, the major restriction to this unprecedented flexibility is that basic economy tickets are excluded. Though airlines had limited-time waivers during the height of the pandemic that covered basic economy ticket, those have since expired.

On American and Delta, basic economy tickets remain “use it or lose it.” Hopefully, they’ll follow United’s lead and offer ticket changes for a nominal upgrade fee.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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