All About United Basic Economy And How United Determines Their Basic Economy Buyout Fee

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United hasn’t had enough bad press of late, so on May 9th they will launch Basic Economy class on hundreds of domestic routes. That’s sure to lead to plenty of exciting news coverage for them next month when most passengers start experiencing them…

With a Basic Economy ticket United won’t allow full size carry-ons, won’t award elite qualifying miles, won’t allow seat assignments, won’t allow any changes to Basic Economy fares (after the 24 hour free cancellation period), and they will board Basic Economy passengers last. You are able to bring a personal item up to 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches. If a Basic Economy passengers tries bringing a larger carry-on item, the bag will be checked under and be hit with a $25 fee on top of the regular checked bag fee.

However if you or anyone on your reservation has a United Explorer or Club card or has elite status then you can all board early and each bring a free full size carry-on bag, even if you are on Basic Economy fares. You will also get a free checked bag, just as when traveling on a regular economy ticket. Elite members won’t get economy plus seats, upgrades, or elite qualifying miles.

The main “punishment” for cardholders on a Basic Economy fare is that they won’t be able to assign seats. Commenter “CtownBin” asked yesterday if he might be separated from his 3 year old if they buy $58 Basic Economy fares from Cleveland to Los Angeles.

Now 99% of people won’t want to sit next to a 3 year old and will be more than happy to trade seats so that you can sit together. Of course there’s still the 1% chance that you get 2 middle seats and that you are both seated next to crazy people who would rather spend a flight next to a 3 year old seated away from their parent, than trade for a middle seat.

My advice to raise that to 99.99% odds of sitting together was to bring a car seat for the 3 year old. Federal law requires that the carseat be placed in a window seat. Even if United were to give you say, 22F window and 25E middle, it will not be hard for you to trade either 22E for 25E or 25F for 22F. You won’t run into a situation of having to find someone to trade you their aisle for a middle with that strategy. I’d also highly reccomend a GoGoBabyz Travelmate, which we use to make it easy to push Rafi in an Evenflo Maestro travel carseat and Talia in a Cosco Scenara travel carseat.


While some people claim that all Basic Economy fares are just the previous lowest fares, I have not found that to always be the case. Before Basic Economy fares a one-way ticket between Cleveland and San Francisco on United would cost hundreds of dollars. Now it’s available for just $48.20, by far the lowest price I’ve ever seen.

The upcharge between Cleveland and San Francisco to go from basic economy to economy is $25 each way.



While the upcharge between LaGuardia to Chicago to go from basic economy to economy is $15 each way.



In researching the upcharge required to buy out of Basic Economy and into regular economy I quickly noticed the pricing logic pattern. Of course it’s subject to change, but it applied in all scenarios that I searched for.

Flights that were up to 1,199 miles in distance according to had a $15 upcharge, flights that were 1,201-1,874 miles in distance had a $20 upcharge, and flights that were 2,052 miles or more had a $25 upcharge.

Sample $15 routes:
Washington DC-Detroit: 383
Washington DC-Atlanta: 534
LGA-Chicago: 733
Chicago-Dallas: 802
Chicago-Houston: 925
Newark-Miami: 1085
Cleveland-Houston: 1091
Pittsburgh-Houston: 1117
Chicago-Fort Lauderdale: 1185
Chicago-Miami: 1197
Atlanta-Denver: 1199

Sample $20 routes:
Cleveland-Denver: 1201
Baltimore-Houston: 1235
Houston-Las Vegas: 1222
Houston-Los Angeles: 1379
LGA-Denver: 1620
Newark-Houston: 1400
Chicago-Phoenix: 1440
Chicago-Los Angeles: 1744
Minneapolis-Los Angeles: 1535
Chicago-San Diego: 1722
Houston-Seattle: 1874

Sample $25 routes:
Cleveland-Los Angeles: 2052
Cleveland-San Francisco: 2161
Baltimore-Los Angeles: 2329

Sample routes without basic economy:
Washington DC-Houston
Washington DC-Los Angeles
Newark-Los Angeles
Newark-Orange County
Newark-San Francisco
Newark-San Diego
Chicago-San Francisco

United Basic Economy still beats an airline like Spirit.
-United gives free snacks and drinks, has better seats, offers more legroom, has WiFi/TV/streaming entertainment, etc.
-If you have a United Explorer or Club card you still get free checked and carry-on bags.
-United has more frequent flights and interline partners to accommodate passangers in case of irregular operations, whereas on Spirit you can wait days for a new flight if yours is cancelled.
-United has far more valuable miles than Spirit does.

Will you fly on a Basic Economy fare or will you pay the upcharge? Hit the comments!

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39 Comments On "All About United Basic Economy And How United Determines Their Basic Economy Buyout Fee"

All opinions expressed below are user generated and the opinions aren’t provided, reviewed or endorsed by any advertiser or DansDeals.


Feel free to call me crazy but I’m not trading my aisle seat for a middle seat — I will sit next to your 3 year old


I need to pay the upcharge because I need the elite qualifying miles for Gold Status 🙁


How do you know what fare your booking into if you book on Chase ultimate rewards or Amex travel?


You’ll quickly change your mind after 5 minutes next to my 3 year old


I flew Delta Basic economy twice so far by myself.. and both times when I went to the counter for seat assignment, I was upgraded to a premium seat and was added to one of the first boarding groups.

Now if I were to be traveling with more people I would think twice about purchasing basic economy,


I just booked a flight from EWR-MCO and paid the extra 15$. What am I getting for my money over the basic economy?


Is HAVING an Explorer card good enough to get out of Basic Economy or do you have to BUY the ticket with the card?
Unlike the other airline cards, I’ve been stung when flying United but haven’t actually used the card to buy the ticket such as being rebooked by another airline or redeeming miles etc.


When booking thru an ota will it be a basic economy fare or regular fare?


sound like i wont be traveling united anymore.


Do basic economy fares count as activity on your mileage plus account, thus extending expiring miles?


I recently booked a LAX-SLC trip for me and two kids and happily paid the extra $45 to know that we can sit together.

I think this is going to be a disaster, especially for families that are occasional flyers and don’t pay attention to the details and just choose the lowest price. They’ll be upset at being seated apart from their children and probably travel with something larger than a small personal item. The travelers that did pay for seats that include a seat assignment will understandably be very unhappy about being ask to move to a middle seat to accommodate a family that shows the basic fare. I think this fare shouldn’t be an option for reservations but include small children.



As the post says- the ability to check a full size carry-on (which will be gate-checked for free if there’s no longer any space), ability to reserve a seat in advance, earning PQM, ability to change flight (though may not be worth it depending on the change fee for your fare). Also, the ability to upgrade to Economy Plus or higher cabin if a Premier member.


I flew EWR-MIA on a $60 ticket and used Amex MR 3k to pay for it. I have United Explorer Club card and had to pay for my first bag that I checked. If you don’t charge at least a portion of the tix to the United card, you don’t get the benefits

Deep Blue

From what I gather, this is basically spirit class? The only exception being the free beverages.


RE Basic economy Fares:

as Delta & American block all Aisle/Window seats as preferred, both regular & basic economy fares means you get the same middle seat – at least UA doesn’t block yet seats. And change fees are min $200 – both regular & basic are basically non-refundable non changeable (If your ticket is like less then $200)


“While some people claim that Basic Economy fares are just the previous lowest fares, I have not found that to be the case. Before Basic Economy fares a one-way ticket between Cleveland and San Francisco on United would cost hundreds of dollars. Now it’s available for just $48.20, by far the lowest price I’ve ever seen.”

I don’t agree. If true, wouldn’t the non-Basic Economy fare available on the route still cost hundreds of dollars? Doesn’t it seem more plausible that these lower fares are simply in response to new competition on the market (as you suggested in a post yesterday)?


If you are travelling together with a child and try to book 1 as basic and 1 non-basic if there is an aisle or window available to assign so there is a bigger chance you can switch the unassigned seat


@Al: The terms are pretty clear that you just have to be a cardholder to bypass the carry-on and boarding limitations. You need to pay with the Chase Explorer card to get a free checked bag, but that is the same as normal Economy fares.


Dan, when I fly to FL with my 4 children (6 tickets total) should we purchase these? If we do can all 6 of us be located in the middle in different rows not together? That would be crazy… I guess that means that parents with children, or couples who wish to sit together, can’t buy these tickets?

Mike D


Will I get these benefits if I use my United Club Card or just the Explorer card?
(board early and each bring a free full size carry-on bag, free checked bag) or do I get the two free checked bags the Club Card usually allows?


So what do you say, spirit or united basic (same ticket)



You have to book the ticket or pay the tax if redeeming awards with the Explorer card in order to get free checked bag. As for boarding its hit or miss. You are suppose to get group 2 boarding regardless. However, sometimes my boarding pass would say group 2 but at the gate the system would say group 5, which hasn’t been a problem yet because the gate agent would look at my phone and just waive me in regardless.


Aren’t the airlines required to have at least one adult on the reservation sit with a minor child? I thought they had to go as far as reassigning seats to make this happen. The only exception would be an unaccompanied minor but that also requires parental authorization.


The mini travelmate is cheaper and does the job just fine with a full sized car seat IME:


How did you see these fares? I don’t see these on United.


Nevermind. I see them after May.


When I go look at kayak it gives me obviously the cheaper basic Fair on United but comparing at the Spirit which they’re trying to compete against spirit is still cheaper by at least 50 or $70 there I would still argue that spirit is still a better option because the difference to a regular economy fare on United will go at least $100 more


From FAA advisory circular “A window seat is the preferred location; however, other locations may be
acceptable, provided the CRS does not block the egress of any passenger, including the child’s
parent or guardian, to the aisle used to evacuate the aircraft. The regulations contained in
§§ 91.107, 121.311, 125.211, and 135.128 allow aircraft operators to determine the most
appropriate passenger seat location for a CRS based on safe operating practices. In making this
determination, an aircraft operator should consider the following:… “


Old post, but here now ARE basic economy from EWR to LAX and vice versa, and the upcharge is 15$ . Although i do think it was 10$ 2 weeks ago for the same flight i was searching.


I have a MileagePlus Explorer card and bought a Basic Economy ticket from SFO to LAS (MileagePlus numbers entered when booked). It left from an international gate and when we checked in at the gate, we were told we could not bring a full-size carry-on!

I pointed the agent to the FAQ on Basic Economy on the United site that explicitly lists the exception and she still refused!

I then called MileagePlus support and the rep there tried to tell her the same thing: that the MileagePlus card allows an exception. Again, she refused, telling them they were wrong!

I also pointed out the boarding pass had us in priority group 2, not 5, which surprised her, but she still refused!

She was going to charge us for our carry-ons and another agent then asked if we bought the tickets with the card. We actually did so in this case, so we let her confirm and she said she’d make “an exception” for us in that case. However, just being card holders is supposed to be enough!

I’ve read of other passengers who’ve had similar problems and since you are at the mercy of the agents with no recourse if you can’t convince them, it is NOT a sure benefit of having this card. We spent nearly an hour of frustrating discussion and phone calls before our flight, but might have had to pay high fees for our bags (she was not going to allow them to be checked free, either, apparently).

Di Lu

Are you sure about that rule that says that car seats are only allowed by the window? I just called United twice (in case the first rep didn’t know) and they told me that car seats can be placed in any seat as long as I purchased a seat for my toddler.