Travelers often need to keep costs down, particularly when it comes to airline travel. One way of keeping ticket costs down is to opt for either economy or basic economy ticket fares. Unfortunately, some travelers are confused about these terms and, in some cases, are unpleasantly surprised when they get to the airport.
It's easy to understand why consumers are confused. For many years, economy fares were the cheapest option that offered the fewest perks and amenities. Basic economy is a relatively new fare class that provides significant savings but at the cost of comfort, convenience, and service levels.
Another reason for this confusion is that each airline defines the terms of economy vs. basic economy fares. Restrictions and amenities on basic economy tickets for one airline might differ from those purchased from another airline. This is why it is important to either research airline policies before booking a flight or work with a business travel consultant who can let you know what to expect.
One of the reasons that basic economy and economy fare restrictions vary so much between airlines is that the basic economy fare was originally a budget airline concept. These airlines already offered low fares and stripped-down service, so creating an extremely inexpensive yet restrictive ticket was in keeping with the brand.
Traditional airlines eventually began to offer their own version of basic economy, though the restrictions are not quite so pronounced. For example, while a budget airline may not allow basic economy flyers to upgrade a seat or bring a carry-on bag on board, a full-service airline may permit both these things.
Economy class, sometimes also known as "main cabin," is the style of travel that most people are familiar with, as fares are usually significantly cheaper than those for business or first-class seats. Economy class flyers can typically choose their seats, upgrade to "premium" main cabin seats, and usually board the plane after elite mileage, business, and first-class passengers.
These passengers can usually check luggage (usually at an additional cost) and bring one carry-on bag and a "personal item," such as a purse, laptop case, or small backpack. Economy fare tickets can, in some cases, be changed for an additional fee, allow passengers to earn mileage and to qualify for advancing in the mileage club tiers.
Basic Economy Class
What makes a basic economy class ticket "basic" is its restrictions. Restrictions vary by airline but often include:
Significant limitations on baggage: High fees for any checked bags, and some airlines restrict passengers to one personal item that can only be stored under a seat.
Few or no ticket or itinerary changes are allowed.
Basic economy class passengers are the last group to board.
Passengers cannot select their seats, and seats might not be assigned until the day of departure.
Some airlines don't permit flyers to earn mileage on basic economy fares.
What Class Makes the Most Sense for You?
Choosing a ticket class is primarily a matter of considering your personal, budgetary, and travel needs:
If you have specific health or comfort needs, economy class allows you to select a seat that can help keep you comfortable during your flight. On the other hand, if you don't have any special needs and the flight is going to be a short one, you might be just fine with a middle seat.
If you typically travel very light, basic economy can be a good option. If you are traveling on an airline that allows you to check a bag for a fee, compare the cost of a standard economy ticket to the basic economy fare plus baggage costs to determine if you can still save money by going with the basic fare.
Consider whether you can afford to lose the price of a ticket if your plans change: Depending on the airline, you may be out of luck, and your money, if you opted for a basic economy ticket.
Be sure to check out our blog for more tips and ideas that can help make your travels less stressful and more affordable!