>Chris discovers that new Basic Economy fares don’t offer much of a discount at all- as a matter of fact, they are a thinly veiled price hike for some travelers.
For business and personal reasons, I fly between San Francisco and Atlanta a lot. For an upcoming four-day trip in mid-May I’ve been monitoring fares for the past month or so.
I waited to book this trip until after Easter because airlines usually lower fares for “shoulder season” travel at about this time.
But this year, that does not seem to be happening. As a matter of fact, a new wrinkle emerged this week: Basic economy fares now apply on this route. Even if you don’t fly this route at all, stick with me here, because it could soon apply in just about any market.
Here’s the lay of the land on SFO-ATL: Both Delta and United offer nonstops on the route. Delta offers several per day, and United offers two. Generally the lowest economy fares hover at around $350 roundtrip in economy. I usually favor United when flying this route because it has convenient flight times, and with my elite status, I sit in Economy Plus and occasionally get upgraded to first class for the 4-5 hour flight.
Over the last year Frontier (SFO) and Spirit (Oakland) jumped into the nonstop market with one (or fewer) flights per day. Both have offered some jaw-dropping deals… I’ve seen them as low (or lower) than $200 roundtrip. But of course you have to factor in the ultra-tight seating, fees and possibility of cancellation– reasons I shy away from these flights.
For the past month, SFO-ATL roundtrips have sat stubbornly at around $420 on United and Delta. Spirit and Frontier’s fares were higher than normal, too. Around $360. (NOTE: These fares available on April 20 and subject to change.)
When fares did not come down by Tuesday this week, I was ready to throw in the towel and pay $420 on United. But something strange happened on Wednesday morning when I went to make my purchase: That $420 fare had increased to $470 and turned into a “basic economy” fare. If I wanted a regular economy fare, I’d have to pay $520, a $50 premium. On Delta, the basic economy fare was a steep $506, and the upgrade to main cabin was $26, so $532. Nothing cheap about that!
But wait… hold everything. I thought that United and Delta were adding a new low-fare option with basic economy. Not so in this case…both just slapped a basic economy label on the existing lowest fare and raised the standard economy fare. Neither of them actually lowered their fares to compete with Frontier’s lowest fare of $360.
When United pushed out its new fare category, it sounded like fares would come down in these markets— United even says so on its website: We’re introducing a new fare option, called Basic Economy, which is available on select routes and in addition to standard United Economy fares. Created for our customers who may be more price-sensitive, these lower-priced fares provide most of the same inflight services and amenities that are available with standard Economy.
When United introduced the unpopular new fares in Minneapolis earlier this year, president Scott Kirby said, “The launch of our Basic Economy product is transformational – offering customers seeking the most budget-conscious fares United’s comfortable and reliable travel experience across our unmatched network of destinations. Basic Economy lets you go where you want to go at our lowest available fare while enjoying United’s Economy cabin and the exceptional inflight service that comes with it.”
Meh! In this case, it appears that the introduction of Basic Economy fares is a thinly veiled price hike for business travelers who need things like seat assignments, elite qualifying miles, refunds, overhead bin space and the opportunity to upgrade.
I’ll go ahead and pay the $520 fare, but I’m not happy about it…
Have you encountered a basic economy fare yet? How’d that go for you?