Delta Air Lines
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Delta Warns You Prior to Purchase of Basic Economy Fare — But Is Basic Economy That Bad?

hen you select a Basic Economy class fare for your ticket to travel as a passenger on a flight operated by Delta Air Lines at its official Internet web site, you get a warning — to which you must answer whether or not you agree before continuing with your purchase — as follows:

Try booking a ticket on a Basic Economy fare and you receive this warning.
Click on the image for an enlarged version.

You selected a Basic Economy fare, which includes the following restrictions:

  • Last to board and last to access overhead bin space except Medallion® members and other Priority Boarding eligible customers
  • Other restrictions apply to all customers including but not limited to Medallion® members and SkyTeam® elites
  • No seat assignment until check-in
  • No refunds
  • No ticket changes
  • No paid or complimentary upgrades to Delta One™, First Class, Business Class, Delta Comfort+™ or Preferred Seats
  • No Priority Boarding for purchase
  • No same-day confirmed or same-day standby travel changes


“Delta is now warning you about the evils of BASIC economy seating (and making you sign off on them)!” is the title of this article written by René de Lambert of Delta Points — and I actually believe that that is a good thing.

Think about it: you are clearly being warned by Delta Air Lines that you are purchasing a highly-restricted airfare which excludes certain benefits afforded with other airfares.

By the indication of an additional column with grey buttons solely dedicated to Basic Economy airfares as seen in the screen shot shown above, I personally thought that customers already were clearly informed which airfares were Basic Economy — even clearer than the differences between the economy class and premium class columns…

…but I know of at least one person who was surprised as a passenger on a recent flight operated by Delta Air Lines that he could not choose a seat or board sooner. “I must have purchased one of those Basic Economy fares,” he lamented to me in what sounded like a tone of disgust when he called via the telephone as he was at the gate awaiting his flight — and I could tell that he was disappointed…

…so in my opinion, the idea of this blatantly clear warning which no one can ignore pertaining to purchasing a Basic Economy fare is great; and I applaud Delta Air Lines for implementing such a clear warning. I only wish that lodging companies would have a similar warning when customers are about to reserve a room of which resort fees cost extra money but are mandatory — but that will be the day when pigs fly.

Oh, yeah — that’s right: here is proof that pigs do fly. I will have to search for another clichéd analogy…

…but while we are on the topic of Basic Economy fares, here is something René de Lambert wrote in the aforementioned article which had me thinking:

“WoW! That is quite a list of “gotchas” for this super-duper el’Cheap’O fare class. No thanks. I am not willing to save $10 to $20 on a round trip ticket and “enjoy” all that. Would you?”

Just as a side note, there is at least one flight route missing from the list René provided in his article: Basic Economy fares are also offered between Atlanta and New York – John F. Kennedy International Airport, as shown below:

Click on the image for an enlarged version.
Click on the image for an enlarged version.

Anyway, I decided to do a little cursory research. Spirit Airlines competes with Delta Air Lines on flights between Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale. Departing from Atlanta on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 for Fort Lauderdale and returning to Atlanta on Thursday, June 11, 2015, Spirit Airlines operates four flights; whereas Delta Air Lines operates 15 flights — all non-stop, with the exception of one round-trip flight operated by Spirit Airlines, which has one stop each way.

As seen in the first screen shot shown near the beginning of this article, round-trip flights with Basic Economy fares on Delta Air Lines are $30.00 less expensive than the same flights with Main Cabin economy class fares — which is more of a difference than what René de Lambert wrote…

…but is $30.00 enough to compel you to purchase the more restricted ticket?

By comparison, the least expensive airfare flying as a passenger on an airplane operated by Spirit Airlines is $136.18, as seen by the screen shots shown below:

Click on the image for an enlarged version.
Click on the image for an enlarged version.
Click on the image for an enlarged version.
Click on the image for an enlarged version.
Click on the image for an enlarged version.
Click on the image for an enlarged version.

The least-expensive flight is $20.02 less expensive than Basic Economy fares offered by Delta Air Lines — and that is if you are not a member of the $9 Fare Club, where you would have saved an additional $20.00. If $30.00 is enough to compel someone to purchase a Basic Economy fare over other economy class fares, then why not save an additional $20.02 and simply fly as a passenger aboard an airplane operated by Spirit Airlines?

Delta Air Lines is betting that even though the Basic Economy fare is not as inexpensive as its low-cost competitors, you will still purchase them because you will earn SkyMiles — as few as they may be due to the recent switch to a frequent flier loyalty program based on revenue instead of mileage — as well as Medallion Qualification Miles towards elite level status for the next year; and you will be able to use those SkyMiles on international flights…

…or you will simply pony up the extra $10.00 to $30.00 to purchase the regular economy class fare. Anything to avoid airlines such as Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines — right? Either way, Delta Air Lines wins.

Additionally with Delta Air Lines, you perhaps like such benefits as…

  • More frequent schedules
  • Better customer service — although some may dispute that
  • A larger route network
  • A free snack and beverage
  • No need to stand in a line as early as possible to quickly snatch a good seat — such as with Southwest Airlines
  • The ability to change to an earlier flight, if you qualify
  • Access to a lounge, if you qualify.


…and you still get to enjoy those benefits even if you purchased a Basic Economy fare.

I have traveled twice after purchasing a Basic Economy fare last year — but Basic Economy fares were slightly less restrictive back then, as there were:

  • No refunds at all under any circumstance, no matter what
  • No changes are permitted at all at any time
  • Your seat is assigned to you when you check in on the day of your flight — not even when you check in via the Internet before you arrive at the airport


That was it. Upgrades were still available — albeit unlikely — at that time, for example.

Changes and refunds for domestic flights within the United States cost $200.00 on Delta Air Lines; so it really does not matter how restrictive is the policy for changes and refunds on an airfare of $200.00 or less in cost. In other words, if you paid $150.00 for your ticket and you need to change it, does it really matter whether or not you are able to change it for a fee of $200.00 or if you cannot change it under any circumstance? Either way, you lose your $150.00 if you cannot be a passenger on that flight you originally chose after all — so I really did not care much about the strict restrictions on refunds and changes on an E fare ticket.

I do not like the idea of not being able to select a seat in advance — but I wanted to see what would happen when I purchased an E fare ticket. Both purchases were for a one-way flight from Atlanta to West Palm Beach; and both times, the flight cost $89.00 — including all taxes and fees, which is what this flight used to cost with a T fare not all that long ago; although the cost had increased to $100.00, as shown in the graphic below…

This screen shot of two flights operated by Delta Air Lines from Atlanta to West Palm Beach on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 shows a comparison between the lowest economy class fare, the first class fare, and the Basic Economy fare.
This screen shot of two flights operated by Delta Air Lines from Atlanta to West Palm Beach on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 shows a comparison between the lowest economy class fare, the first class fare, and the Basic Economy fare. Click on the image for an enlarged version.

…but the cost is as low as $93.10 one way if you plan on traveling from Atlanta to West Palm Beach in May of 2015.

Both times, I qualified for and enjoyed using the Pre✓ program by the Transportation Security Administration; and passing through the airport security checkpoint at the international airport in Atlanta was effortless and took me all of five minutes — if that. However, the Pre✓ program by the Transportation Security Administration is rarely available to frequent fliers these days — if at all.

The first time, I received an aisle seat in the approximate middle of a Boeing 757-200 aircraft. The seat next to me was empty — but then again, the aircraft itself was not full. I was quite pleased.

The second time a few weeks later, the flight was initially oversold. When I attempted to check in for the flight at the official Internet web site of Delta Air Lines, I received a message on how much I wanted to bid to be voluntarily “bumped” from the flight. I entered an amount higher than the three amounts which were offered and continued with the ticketing process, knowing that the flight was full and I have no seat assignment.

When I arrived at the airport, I received my boarding pass — and sure enough, it was a middle seat on a Boeing 757-200 aircraft packed full with passengers…

…but wait — it was in an exit row seat which reclined. Leg room! I had more leg room than if I was seated in a seat in the Economy Comfort section of the aircraft!

While I felt sorry for the people in the aisle and window seats in my row across the aisle who had to contend with a male passenger whose girth did not allow him to sit comfortably in his seat and therefore spill over into the seats on either side of him, I had seat mates who minded their own business and left me alone.

All in all, I was pleased with both of my experiences — but I am not certain if the same would be true today due to the additional restrictions…

…but then again, I did fly as a passenger on an airplane operated by Ryanair — not once but also twice — and I survived.

I would suggest that you consider purchasing your ticket from Spirit Airlines if:

  1. Saving money is your absolute top priority — if it is really that important to you above anything else
  2. It is a short flight
  3. You do not care about benefits such as upgrades and changing flights — especially if the chances of scoring them on Delta Air Lines would be remote at best anyway
  4. You do not mind a significantly less frequent flight schedule
  5. You carry only one bag and stow it under the seat in front of you — as well as be able to not pay any fees in addition to the airfare due to the way you travel


Otherwise, consider purchasing a Basic Economy fare from Delta Air Lines for flights shorter in duration if price is important to you that you are willing to deal with the restrictions — but not so important that you are willing to switch to a low-cost carrier. Again — the threshold of what people are willing to pay versus what benefits they receive will vary…

…but if you do choose to purchase a Basic Economy fare, you will survive. I have done it  — twice — and I lived to tell about it…

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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