United’s Basic Economy Class Proves That Airfare Really Can be Too Cheap

In theory, United Airline’s basic economy class sounds like a great idea. Pay a little bit less to fly? I’m all ears.

According to The Economist, people are flocking for these low fare tickets in droves. United’s chief financial officer, Andrew Levy, even reported that 30-40% of economy-class passengers have chosen these lower-priced basic economy fares since they were introduced earlier this year.

But after taking a closer look, I’m scratching my head because this isn’t exactly a deal.

And, as reported by Business Insider, customers are confused about the restrictions that come with basic economy tickets — and they aren’t happy about them.

Listen up, Penny Hoarders: I read the fine print for you.

Here’s what you really need to know about these basic economy-class fares — and how much they actually cost you.

United’s Basic Economy Class: Nowhere Near a Deal

Since it began earlier this year, the program has been so successful that United expanded it to all domestic markets last month, as reported by The Economist.

Basic economy customers are paying $15-$20 less than they would for regular economy-fare tickets. However, these cost cuts come at a significant price.

Riding basic economy means you are only permitted one personal item on board. That’s it.

According to United’s website, those who have luggage will have to check it and pay the checked baggage fee, which is $25 for the first bag.

If you’re thinking of being sneaky and bringing a carry-on with you, you’ll get hit big. You’ll pay the applicable checked bag fee plus a $25 handling charge if you bring it to the gate.


These baggage fees mean you’re paying the same amount you would for a regular economy fare. And if you try to sneak on a carry-on and get caught, you’re paying more than a regular economy fare.

It doesn’t stop there. Basically, your regular economy-class privileges are stripped away when you purchase these basic economy tickets.

Traveling with family? Sorry, you can’t sit with them.

Want a window seat? Sorry, you aren’t allowed to pick your seat. What do you think this is, Burger King?

Need to change your flight? Nope. Not allowed.

You board the plane last. Now that just sucks.

Oh, let’s not forget: Even if you’re a MileagePlus or Premier member, you won’t get the fancy benefits of your membership, such as upgrades, qualifying dollars and more. (You still earn your frequent flyer miles, though.)

But there is some good news: According to United, you can bring a “small musical instrument” that fits in the overhead bins.

But if you do bring your sad trombone, you can’t bring your small personal item. So what will it be: your purse or your trombone?

Is There Ever a Time When These Tickets Actually Worth It?

I want to believe this basic economy class is a good idea, but I’m struggling here.

If the price difference between basic economy and regular economy is only $15-$20, the checked bag fee eliminates the savings entirely — and actually adds $5 to your overall cost (or more, if you try to sneak a bag on board).

The only time these tickets might actually be worth it are if you’re traveling without luggage.

But I have a really hard time believing that anyone actually does that — unless, maybe, you’re on a quick flight for business and only need to bring your briefcase.

Otherwise, these fares just don’t make sense.

You end up paying more to have less.

It’s another lesson for the books: Sometimes deals aren’t deals in the end. Read the fine print, and proceed with caution!

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.