One of the main reasons we’ve enjoyed lower airfares this year is the rapid growth of so-called “ultra-low-cost carriers” such as Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit, which are stealing market share from the major airlines.
To fight back, United today unveiled at new bargain-basement fare called “Basic Economy” which will will go on sale in January for spring 2017 flights.
Basic economy is a fare that’s not friendly to the business travel crowd. Why? Let me count the ways:
>Premier upgrades to Economy Plus or first class will not be available, no matter what your elite status is.
>You’ll still earn MileagePlus miles, but they will not count as Premier Qualifying Miles, segments or dollars.
>Basic economy passengers without status will be the very last passengers to board the plane. Premiers and MileagePlus credit card holders still get preferred boarding status.
>Once you’ve booked your tickets, no changes or refunds allowed at all, even with a fee.
>You can’t reserve a seat ahead of time– you’ll get your seat assignment at the gate, and will likely end up with those middle seats at the back of the plane or near the lavatory. This means that you will likely not be able to sit next your traveling companions or family members.
>A “personal item” that fits under the seat in front of you is the only carry on luggage allowed and Basic Economy passengers will not have access to overhead bin space. However, Premiers, MileagePlus credit card holders or Star Alliance Gold members are exempt from this rule and are allowed a full-size carry on. (How this will be enforced is still a little murky to me, so time will tell how this part plays out.) Checked baggage fees will be the same as for other economy passengers.
>Delta’s basic economy fares have been in place since 2012- here are details about that. United’s basic economy fare is almost an exact copy– the primary difference being that on Delta, basic economy passengers do have access to overhead bin space.
When the new fares kick in this winter, United will have five fare levels to choose from: Basic economy, standard economy, Economy Plus, First and Polaris. A spokesperson told TravelSkills that the fares would be available in all markets, not just those where United competes with ULCCs, but would not reveal how much cheaper these fares would be compared to standard economy fares.
Over the last few years ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) have spread their wings all over the country offering ultra-low fares packed with ultra-high fees. For example, I’ve been monitoring fares between San Francisco and Atlanta for the last few months, and Frontier has offered crazy-low round-trip fares as low as $127 on the transcon route. A few weeks ago, a reader emailed me about the $24 one-way fare he got between SFO and Phoenix. Allegiant entered the Oakland-Las Vegas market earlier this year with $59 roundtrips.
These are indeed good deals, but if you want to carry on a bag, book a seat in advance, or get a seat with humane legroom, you’ll end up paying at least twice that much, if not more. In addition, most ultra-low-cost carriers only have one or two flights per day on many routes– if you miss you plane, or if there’s a mechanical, you are stuck.
For a business traveler, a basic economy fare or a flight on a ULCC might work for a short haul day-trip, like San Francisco to Los Angeles or Chicago to Minneapolis, but not much more than that.
For full details about United Basic Economy click HERE
So what do you think about United’s new ultra-low basic economy fare? Do you flight on ultra-low-cost carriers? How was that? Please leave your comments below.