No, You're Not Getting a Deal With United Basic Economy to Europe
Tuesday morning, United loaded basic economy fares for some of its international routes — but they aren't any lower than what was available yesterday. In fact, they're exactly the same, as evidenced by some screenshots I captured for the airline's flight between Newark (EWR) and Paris (CDG).
On one date I searched on Monday, United was offering an "Economy (first bag charge/no changes allowed)" fare for $552 round-trip, a reasonable savings of $135 off the regular coach fare, which includes a checked bag and allows flight changes with a fee.
On Tuesday, that exact same fare now falls under the "Basic Economy" umbrella — it'll still cost you the same $552 round-trip, but you're earning half the number of elite-qualifying credits (including Premier Qualifying Miles and Premier Qualifying Segments). You'll also no longer be able to select a seat in advance without a charge, which means you're likely to end up stuck in the middle.
Unlike on domestic basic economy flights, transatlantic passengers are still eligible to bring a rolling carry-on bag, and may not necessarily board in the last group. Premier members get a checked bag as well, but are not eligible for complimentary seat assignments, Economy Plus seating, free same-day changes or paid, mileage or certificate upgrades.
Perhaps most frustrating is the fact that, like other US airlines, United continues to suggest that basic economy offers an advantage to customers. With this latest announcement, the airline claims: “We are committed to providing more options for our customers so that they can choose the experience that best fits their needs.” In reality, United's charging the exact same fares it had just one day prior, while giving customers a far less flexible or rewarding experience.
There's really no way to spin this as a positive change — while it's not quite as restrictive as it had been in the past, there's no question that United basic economy is bad news for consumers.