United Basic Economy fares are alive, spreading


Looking out over the sea of economy class seats
Looking out over the sea of economy class seats

April 18th marked the true beginning of the United Basic Economy era. The first flights under the new branding began flying in and out of Minneapolis that day. The company is celebrating that milestone with the expansion of the fare product into new markets. The next tranche of Basic Economy fares take effect starting with travel on 9 May 2017 and include routes between some hubs and also to spoke destinations. Additional markets are launching effective fore travel beginning 16 May 2017.

Much like with the initial Basic Economy rollout the new markets are essentially seeing fares increase to cover the BE addition. Expect to see a $15-30 increase in fares for most markets, depending on segment length to avoid the Basic penalties. And Basic Economy is still not selling in connecting markets yet.

While many of the markets added in this latest round are ULCC competition, the theoretical target of such a product when it was first contemplated, not all are. This reinforces the reality that Basic Economy isn’t about the LCCs. Alas, United President Scott Kirby used yesterday’s earnings call and product launch to reiterate that the product is about “giving passengers a choice.”

I don’t know many passengers that would take the “choice” to pay $20 more for the same service on the same flight compared to yesterday. The part where United is also choosing to only selectively match LCC fares in some markets. Charging $100 extra for a similar product is rarely a strong market position.

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Of course, there are examples cutting both ways on this front.

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As a reminder, the Basic Economy fares do not permit a carry-on bag (only a small personal item that fits under the seat) and passengers on such tickets will default to the last boarding group. Earning rates in the MileagePlus program are also reduced as part of the fares.

In the end this is neither a surprise nor particularly awful. Some fares went up this week. More will go up in the future. Thus is the way our travel industry is set to evolve in the coming months and years.

Happy flying!

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

14 Comments

  1. i have ONE sacred route among their entire network. as long as the B/E curse doesn’t spread there, i’m good (I won’t list it here and give them any ideas of where to gut next)

    1. Hate to break it to you but that is almost certainly coming soon enough. 🙁

  2. It’s really dumb. And t really effects business travelers. It’s very easy to have a secretary or HR associate or whomever book a ticket, and they have to use the cheapest fare, and all of sudden you can’t bring your business travel stuff with you. I was recently traveling with a bunch of technical equipment that had to be carried on, and we ended up having to buy a new ticket because it was cheaper than upgrading.

    1. Not an FA issue. Once you’re past the scanner at the gate a BE passenger is the same as any other. The process is explicitly designed to not affect FAs, though the lack of advance assigned seats and families split apart is likely to still fall on them to try to help resolve at some point.

  3. I booked a flight yesterday from ATL to MDW and Southwest where a lot cheaper than Delta. And they didn’t fly to MDW where I was going to pick up my rental car for my annual trip to Oshkosh via Dayton Ohio for the air force museum. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the flight was only $130 including 2 checked bags and early bird boarding. Delta wanted $147 and that doesn’t include checked bag at $25 extra. So if Southwest can do it and make a profit why can’t the other airlines ? I have heard that Southwest have just wonderful customer service so I really looking forward to my flight in July

    1. Your assumption that Southwest is always cheaper is horribly flawed.

      Also, different airlines operate with different costs so it is entirely possible that if they sold the exact same set of tickets on the same routes one would be profitable and another not. These are not simple businesses to operate not to understand. Trying to process them as though they are is a recipe for disappointment.

      1. True I guess I was just lucky that Southwest is cheaper and went exactly where I wanted to go. You just have to shop around for the best prices every time you fly

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