5 Things to Know Before Booking New United Basic Economy Fares

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Yesterday United announced a brand new Basic Economy fare that will theoretically allow them to compete more with the Ultra Low Cost Carriers like Spirit and Frontier beginning in early 2017. I’m a big fan of low fares, however I’m not jumping on the cheering bandwagon and crossing my fingers that these fares will really represent a cheaper way to fly United than exists today. Only time will reveal if these new Basic Economy fares will turn out to be a way to score a United ticket for less money, or if they will simply be a way for United to include fewer perks and amenities than with the lowest economy fares as they stand today.

We don’t know how the pricing on the United’s Basic Economy fares will really shake out, but there are plenty of things we do know based on yesterday’s announcements. Here are five things you must know about United Economy Basic fares before deciding they are the right ticket for you.


  • No advance seat assignments will be offered, and you must acknowledge at the time of purchase that seating together is not guaranteed. You will be given seat assignments at check-in similar to how Spirit and Frontier operate, and those seat assignments cannot be changed. This means that Basic Economy fares are not going to be a good fit for families who must sit together. I’m sure some families will still buy them and this may create a headache for gate agents and other travelers, but don’t set yourself up for seat assignment drama.
  • No larger carry-on bags will be permitted beyond the small personal item that goes under the seat in front of you. The exception to this is for those who are United elites, primary cardholders of a MileagePlus credit card, or those with Star Alliance Gold members who will still be permitted a standard carry-on even on the Basic Economy fares.


  • United Basic Economy fares will earn redeemable United miles, but they will not earn elite qualifying miles, segments, or credit towards lifetime totals. In other words, if you care about elite status this will probably not be the fare for you.
  • There will be no Economy Plus or Premium Cabin upgrades permitted for anyone traveling on Basic Economy fares. Again, this is another disincentive for elites to book these fares and be able to use those E+ and potential first class upgrades.


  • Those with Basic Economy fares will board in the last boarding group unless they are also a MileagePlus Premier member, primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star Alliance Gold member. Though since you can’t have a larger carry-on anyway with these fares, this shouldn’t matter all that much.

Once you are on-board Basic Economy customers won’t treated any differently than other economy passengers (other than not being permitted a larger carry-on). This means unlike with Spirit and Frontier you will still get a complimentary snack and beverage, as well as complimentary restroom privileges. Okay, that last part was a joke, but only barely.

I do not think that Basic Economy fares will be the best type of fare for most young families, though I 100% understand that price is king when you are shopping for multiple seats, and it will be very tempting to simply select the lowest fare even if it comes with lots of restrictions beyond what you would expect today from a United economy fare. The biggest issue for families will be the lack of advance seat assignments, though it will be interesting to see how this plays out with the FAA Extension, Security, and Safety Act of 2016 in regards to children 13 and under being allowed access to seats next to their guardians.

Other than the seat assignment issues, those with the co-branded United credit cards who don’t care about elite status won’t lose too much with these Basic Economy fares as they will still get a full size carry-on and earlier boarding group when traveling on these fares.

Do you think you will go for United’s new Basic Economy fares when they launch next year even with all the restrictions? How much cheaper would this type of fare need to be over a regular economy ticket in order for you to give up things like a full size carry-on, advance seat assignments, elite qualifying miles, etc?

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  1. Yet more reasons, despite United being a Denver hub, that I will fly SWA for domestic travel. Flying United is horrible unless you find yourself in 1st class.

  2. If I understand this correctly: the carryon and boarding privileges for UA Mileage Plus Visa cardholders is only for the primary cardholder, so if a couple is traveling together as we do now, if they both have the card, they would have to book 2 separate reservations to both be able to carry on a bag and get priority boarding. A way for UA to keep cardholders from cancelling? (cardholders also get more access to award space)……

    • We will have to see how it works in practice I think, though if both travelers have their own co-branded card I would think you could be on the same reservation.

  3. I still don’t understand who United’s target customer is for these types of fares.

    I only fly three or four times RT/year with my family and pay extra for E+ so we can get off quicker and have a bit more room (and no seat backs get kicked). I’ve even purchased United First for my family of five (four + lap) on a CRJ-700 just to have 2/3 of the cabin to ourselves. I may see this differently than most, but I pay extra every time to make sure the flight is as enjoyable as possible.

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