Skift Take

With basic economy soon available on American, Delta, and United, it's worth comparing the pros and cons of each fare. American's may be good for elite travelers while Delta's is best for those with baggage.

Details on American Airline’s long-awaited basic economy fares were finally released last week. At large, the fares bear the basic hallmarks of similar products launched by Delta and United, but as far as benefits go, American seems to have chosen middle ground in terms of what exact perks the fares offer to customers.

Across all three carriers, the new batch of basic economy fares have a great deal in common. All fares aim to strip away the perks of everyday economy travel to purportedly keep fares low. To that end, travelers can’t choose seats at booking (though United is the only carrier that additionally won’t allow free seat selection at check-in) and upgrades are not permitted — regardless of airline elite status.

All basic economy passengers will also board at the very end of the boarding process and will not be allowed to change flights, either before or during the day of travel.

Where the fares diverge is in luggage policy and when some elite benefits come into play. When Delta originally launched basic economy fares last year, the seats came with overhead and under-seat luggage space. United’s fares, however don’t include free overhead bin space — a move that roiled many in the travel community. Following in the path, American’s fares announced last week also don’t include free overhead bin space.

American departs from United in baggage policy when elite status enters the picture. Holding elite status (Silver through top tier Concierge Key) within American’s AAdvantage program waives passengers out of the baggage restrictions when traveling on basic economy fares; United’s Mileage Plus members, however still have to pay — regardless of status.

Mileage Plus members, in fact, get the shortest end of the bargain among all legacy frequent flyers. On United Airlines, loyalty program members earn award miles but neither premiere qualifying dollars or miles, effectively truncating the passenger’s journey to elite status. American and Delta, however, still allow passengers to earn elite points.

For frequent flyers still keen on a loyalty program, it thus seems that American and Delta may offer the best solution to basic economy fares. Between those two, if the passenger wants to bring an overhead bag, Delta may have the best solution while elite members on American may also be in good shape. But if the passenger simply wants the lowest fare and doesn’t care about luggage or elite status, all three legacy carriers are once more on the same level playing field.

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Tags: american airlines, basic economy, delta air lines, united airlines

Photo credit: Economy seating on United Airlines. The big three legacy carriers have all rolled out bargain-basement fares to compete with Spirit and Frontier, which offer no frills. United Airlines

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