Before all the airlines decided to merge in order to avoid competing, the network carriers decided they needed to launch low cost carriers to compete with airlines like AirTran, JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit.
Continental Lite, Delta Song, United Ted, and USAirways MetroJet were airlines within an airline. They all failed miserably and shut down within a few years. Airlines with high cost structures can’t compete on price with airlines that have ultra-low cost structures. It also created brand confusion as former Continental CEO Gordon Bethune put it, “You can make a pizza so cheap, nobody will eat it. You can make an airline so cheap, nobody will fly it.” Airlines (except for El Al which recently launched “Up”) learned that lesson long ago.
Of course after that the airlines realized that they didn’t have to offer free checked baggage and started charging for the privilege unless you held elite status or their co-branded credit card.
Then Delta launched “Basic Economy” fares. They took a cautious approach to it. They would still award redeemable miles and elite qualifying miles. But they wouldn’t be eligible for seat assignments, economy comfort, flight upgrades, changes, cancellations, or standby. If you need to make a voluntary change you have to throw away your ticket and start again.
Of course that’s even worse then the low cost carriers that allow you to pick a seat if you’re willing to pay for it.
Today United announced they will start selling their own Basic Economy fares starting in 2017 Q1 for travel starting in Q2.
They will match Delta’s restrictions and add some more of their own.
United Basic Economy tickets will award redeemable miles, but they won’t award elite qualifying miles or lifetime miles.
Once you’re assigned a seat at checkin you will not be allowed to change it, so this fare won’t be a good idea for people needing to be seated together.
United Basic Economy tickets will also be ineligible to bring a large carry-on bag on the plane. United will accomplish that by making Basic Economy ticketholders board in the last group and everyone in that group will be forced to check their large bags and pay for them. Checked bag fees will be the same as they are for regular ticketholders.
The real question is if the process of charging for bags winds up delaying flights, which will cost United far more than they’ll take in.
The good news is that if you are eligible to board in an earlier group you will be allowed to have a free large carry-on, even if you have a Basic Economy ticket. That includes any Star Alliance Gold members, United elites, United primary cardholders, and anyone on the same reservation as one of those travelers.
Basic Economy ticketholders will be allowed to have a carry-on that will fit underneath the seat in front of them that is 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches or less.
I’d expect American to match United’s approach, or perhaps make it even more stingy than United’s such as getting rid of miles earned, in the very near future. And if Delta likes what they see I’d expect them to match the stingier aspects as well.
Will you book a United Basic Economy tickets if the fare is right?