Do Basic Economy Fares Impact Award Tickets?

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As of today, United and American have both started selling their own versions of Basic Economy fares on select routes, with the plan to expand from there in the coming months. As of today United is selling their Basic Economy fares to their hubs from Minneapolis and American Airlines is selling theirs on the following routes:

  • New Orleans (MSY) – Philadelphia (PHL)
  • Orlando (MCO) – Charlotte (CLT)
  • Charlotte (CLT) – Philadelphia (PHL)
  • Miami (MIA) – Philadelphia (PHL)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) – Philadelphia (PHL)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) – Tampa (TPA)
  • Baltimore-Washington (BWI) – Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Miami (MIA) – Tampa (TPA)
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL) – Phildelphia (PHL)
  • Miami (MIA) – New Orleans (MSY)


Now that these fares are a reality, the next logical question is what does this do to award tickets? Will award tickets also put you in the last boarding group, only permit a small personal item for carry-on, and not permit advanced seat assignments?

American Basic Economy

Well, who knows that the airlines will think of next, but for today the answer is no, economy award tickets are not subject to the Basic Economy restrictions even on routes where Basic Economy fares are in play.

This flight has Economy Basic rules on dollars, but not miles

This flight has Economy Basic rules on dollars, but not miles

Economy award tickets on American and United are the same as they were before the Basic Economy fares rolled out, which is to say they still come with a full sized carry-on bag, advanced seat assignments, the ability to purchase E+ seats, etc. Award tickets already didn’t earn elite or redeemable miles and had their own fee chart for changes, and that will remain the same…or at least remains the same today.

If avoiding some of the Basic Economy hallmarks like the lack of advanced seat assignments has value to you and your family, then sometimes the scale may tip to using miles over paying the higher price for the regular economy fares since you will be doing a cost per mile calculation against the higher Main Cabin/Regular Economy fare instead of the lowest Basic Economy fare.

American Economy Basic PHL.jpg

United Economy Basic Awards.jpg

 Of course on this particular route, your best bet isn’t 12,500 American miles, but rather 10,000 British Airways Avios.

I’m absolutely not a fan of the Economy Basic fares in large part because families are punished the most. Families with young kids not only have to purchase more tickets to get from Point A to Point B, but they often needs seats together for the safety and convenience of all involved. They will now be faced with the choice of either chancing it that their seats are assigned together at the time of check-in and causing more headache for everyone if they aren’t, or paying even more to fly than they did before. Based on some test searches, it is not uncommon for the “regular” economy fares to cost $40 more each way than Basic Economy tickets. For a family of four on a round trip journey this is an astonishing $320 swing essentially just to get seats assigned next to your kids and bring a full sized carry-on. That is crazy.

The good news is that United and American economy award tickets are not subject to the same restrictions as the Economy Basic fares…at least not for now.

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.



  1. I’m sure I’m swimming upstream with this take, but here goes anyway.

    I look at it as the Regular Fare actually being just that, with the Basic fare offering a discount to those willing to forego the regular trappings – miles, early board, seat selection and the like. There are plenty of those folks – single, traveling alone (or even together, but frugal), short-trippers, etc. who just plain find that stuff unnecessary or “not worth it”.

    It’s the same phenomenon that booted the baked potato and salad out of “included” status in so many restaurants.

    It’s my assumption and hope the market will work this out and we’ve just found a “new normal”. People will vote with their feet I find it easier to take if I view that Basic offering as good for others, but usually not me. So I’ll buy the Regular fare. I’m sure this is what the airlines hope, but it’s more rational/acceptable than some of their FF devaluations.

    • If they made the lowest fares lower I would mostly agree, but they aren’t doing that. Instead they are offering the same lowest prices as yesterday, but now you just get less for it. That means to get “fancy” things like assigned seats and a full size carry-on you now have to pay more. I can’t be a fan of that, especially for things like seat assignments for families.

  2. Thank you for the reassuring post. I do worry that these will be rolled out to award seats in future, and I fly American most often on award flights.. Note at this time American does NOT allow you to purchase E+ on award flights the way that United does. You had written: “Economy award tickets on American and United are the same as they were before the Basic Economy fares rolled out, which is to say they still come with a full sized carry-on bag, advanced seat assignments, the ability to purchase E+ seats, etc”

  3. I realize this is a “basic” question, but to clarify, is basic economy the same price as the old (standard) economy, but with less? While standard economy is now more expensive than previously?

    So for example, it used to cost $100 to travel from A to B in standard economy. Now the $100 from A to B will only get you basic economy and to fly standard economy from A to B will cost roughly $140.

    Thanks for clarification!

      • Thanks for the quick reply!

        My family of 3, soon to be 4, typically flies Southwest but we are getting ready to move to a part of the country where SW has limited routes (AA and Delta are the more dominant carriers). Do you expect the basic economy changes on United and AA to alter your airline loyalties going forward?

        • Good question and I don’t yet know. Truthfully my airline loyalties are already pretty much gone. I have some hold over elite perks swaying me a bit, but each year has brought less loyalty by me than the previous for the last four years or so. If I was closer to Hobby I would probably be a Southwest/Companion Pass girl, but I’m just not there yet. I think two years from now my loyalties may exclusively lie with my wallet, price, and schedule for any given flight. If you travel 50,000 – 100,000+ paid miles per year loyalty should come into the picture a bit, but otherwise it probably shouldn’t.

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