United Will Mimic Delta Basic Economy, But With More Amenities Stripped Out

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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?

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32 Comments On "United Will Mimic Delta Basic Economy, But With More Amenities Stripped Out"

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“9 inches x 10 inches x 17”
What about Talis & tefilin?


Lol, how big is your Talis & tefilin?

mia flyer

i think they are all looking to spirit and seeing how much profit they make from these extra fees and kicking themselves . but you cant have polaris and stripped economy on the same platform , it makes them look desperate


@Anonymous: You could ware it if they refuse to let you on with them in the bag.


Will this impact the United rewards flights?




This is just a way for airlines to raise fares. Why don’t they just raise fares and be done with it. Why all the Nickel and Diming. Right now the fares will be cheaper but in a few months they will be what we are paying for economy tickets today. Economy fares will become economy plus fares and so on. It’s the same thing my kids Yeshiva does. They don’t raise tuition but they charge for twelve other things they never charged for. This is such a bad move on the airlines part. So upsetting.

to Dan

@Dan: not yet 🙂


@Dan: Wait a minute!
You’re not gonna put your Talis and Tefilin under the seat?
Hat and jacket…maybe


C’est la vie.
This is what industry consolidation does.

You can still use the overheads, it just has to be small enough to fit under your seat 🙂


@Dan: Yeh, but if they’re making you board last, there probably won’t be any overhead left. Guess you could just buy a new set when you get there, using the money you saved flying economy economy.


Will this apply to international flights as well?


As I wrote on a comment on this blog 8 years ago, when spirit started charging for luggage, that spirit is the real industry leader, and it’s just a matter of time before everyone copies them.


Proof please


I stopped flying United since they match Delta with revenue mile earning.
Before, I used to fly with Continental and then United after the merge, I had silver status but to keep it, I would have to fly a lot more. Southwest and Alaska are better options these days. For international, there are also better options depends on where you fly.


Costco sells a great carryon with wheels that fits under the seat. I usually pack light and can fit a weeks worth of clothes.


Very interesting how JetBlue and Southwest get put with Spirit and Frontier. B6 and WN are superior to the legacy carriers in many ways, and are also usually not much cheaper.

Full size Chana tefillin…


Dan need your help..
Have amex.. united .. chase.. aa… BA. TY . points

want to book my parents ny via lon ( kever in lon..or can do it on way back) and back to nyc ( 1 way prefer to be non stop)
have any thoughts esp with flying blue promo- pls help and congrads on being best site..

need to do something similar in June for a bar mitzvah in Israel..


@Anonymous: can you tell me the name of the carryon or size dimensions of it?

Swa fan

Dan what I don’t understand is how Southwest which is incredible as far as changing, refund ,and two baggage for free is doing pretty well and they are not changing any of this for so long how are the rest of the u.s. airlines quote on quote struggling and therefore need to make all these restrictions to make more Revenue

Dan's the Man

JetBlue & Southwest are known as low cost airlines. The big 3 (Delta, United, & American) are known as (legacy) full fare airlines. Spirit, Frontier, & Allegiant are Ultra Low Cost carriers.


@Swa fan: Actually lately they are having issues (as all big airlines are) due to extended period of time that airfares have been low. Rumor is they plan to expand internationally to help their bottom line (more central & south america and Canada).

Swa fan

@Dan’s the Man:
Thanks very much Anonymous but you didn’t give me an answer


If I’m an elite will I be Abel to pick a seat




I think it’s time to start “Dan Air”!

Dan, do you think you have enough miles to buy an airplane?


Honestly, the not allowing carry-on thing I understand. On most flights, they need to gate-check carry-ons, which increases handling fees and delays. In the long run, having a set of flyers not paying as much and not getting a carry-on will improve efficiency. I’ve also heard that there’s rumored to be a “service fee” added on to Basic economy passengers who will need to gate check.

Obviously, terrible move customer service wise, but if everyone does it, what choice do we have? I will admit that the seating policies are draconian. I really hope UA bleeds customers and reverses this. #UnitedUnfriendly


@Dan, what’s this going to mean for award redemptions – saver awards will dump you into this awful category?


No, saver awards will not be in this category.
There would be an uprising if they tried that and I don’t anticipate that happening.


Net net, fares are going UP.. I have no confidence that we’ll actually see a lower PRICE for the BE seats, it’s probably going to land right about where fares are TODAY for regular E, not E+.

So, for an elite, who can today pick a fare – lowest and book a seat at purchase (Gold or above) and get a bag and have priority check-in, they are simply going to have to pay a higher fare to KEEP those perks..



Hey @dan,
Is it still possible to cancel a delta (or other) basic economy tickets within 24 hours of the booking. Is this only able to be done through priceline and others that offer this?