E Fares on Delta Air Lines: My Two Experiences

This Boeing 757-200 aircraft resting at a gate at Palm Beach International Airport is ship N635DL, operated by Delta Air Lines. This is the aircraft on which I was a passenger for the second flight for which I paid the cost of $89.00 for an E fare ticket. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to try out Delta Air Lines by purchasing a ticket as an E fare — an airfare which has caused a bit of controversy on FlyerTalk — and I lived to tell about it…

An E fare on Delta Air Lines is now the least-expensive airfare you can purchase in a new class of airfare called Basic Economy — even less expensive than a T fare, which was traditionally the cheapest airfare you can purchase.

However, there are three differences with E fares versus other fares for seats in the economy class cabin:

  • 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

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 do not care much about the strict restrictions on refunds and changes on an E fare ticket…

…and you still earn the full amount of Delta Air Lines SkyMiles and credit towards elite level status for the next year that other economy class fares will earn for you — based on dollar value, of course.

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 has now 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. If the $32.00 difference in cost between the lowest economy class fare does not convince you to choose the Basic Economy fare for Delta Air Lines flight 1134, then perhaps the difference of $168.00 for Delta Air Lines flight 2014 might cause you to reconsider your stance — or spend the extra $247.00 and splurge for an A class fare, if you believe that a wider seat, a couple of chances at the snack basket and that extra drink before departure is worth the cost. Graphic courtesy of Delta Air Lines.

By the way, an A class fare like the one shown above for Delta Air Lines flight 2014 for $347.00 is not necessarily a first class airfare — especially if you experience irregular operations — but I digress. That is a long-standing controversy to be discussed at another time.

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.

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.

I believe that the introduction of Basic Economy fares is a smart move by Delta Air Lines: it is a way of introducing a competitive airfare to the likes of Spirit Airlines and Southwest Airlines — where there are no seat assignments on general airfares — but without the hassle of standing in line as early as possible to grab a seat; and you still get the amenities offered by Delta Air Lines in the economy class cabin, such as a snack, a beverage, greater frequency of flights, and a chance for an upgrade if you have elite level status.

Although I paid $89.00 for my airfare on Delta Air Lines, I could have flown as a passenger on Spirit Airlines for $79.00. I am not sure that the difference of $10.00 is worth it; but now that that same E fare ticket on Delta Air Lines costs $100.00 — while Spirit Airlines still charges $79.00 and is one of the most profitable commercial airlines in the United States — that $21.00 difference starts to give pause when attempting to save money.

It is also a way for customers who pay more to have a better selection of seats which are considered preferred. Why have passengers who want to save money and are not as particular about where they sit take up a seat desired by someone else?

By the way, I missed the upgrade by twenty passengers on the first flight and by five passengers on the second flight. Oh, well…

…but I look at it this way: do I really want to pay more for an extra drink or two, a few snacks and a wider seat on a flight which is only approximately one hour and forty-five minutes in duration? Even if the difference in airfare was only $32.00, I could purchase plenty of snacks at a local supermarket before arriving at the airport — and still have money left over for dinner. The amenities just do not justify the cost on such a short flight, in my opinion.

My recommendation is that while I am not thrilled with E fare tickets primarily because of no advance seat selection — in fact, seat changes are supposedly not permitted even on the day of the flight — they do have their place: figure out what is your threshold while balancing whether or not the savings in cold hard cash are worth what you are willing to endure in terms of the restrictions listed above. For me, an E fare ticket is good for a flight whose duration is two hours or fewer and has a difference in cost significant enough to consider its purchase by me. Ten dollars is not significant enough for me — but it might be for you.

Yes, I sacrificed myself just for you to ensure that you know what to expect if you purchase an E fare on Delta Air Lines. I did not get reimbursed for my flights; I paid for them with my own funds. It is a tough life I endure, I know. Guess what? I survived — and you will too if you decide to purchase an E fare ticket on Delta Air Lines.


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