Now that the Big Three U.S. airlines have rolled out bare-bones Basic Economy fares in their domestic networks, they’re starting to take aim at international markets.
Both Delta and American are bringing the controversial lowball pricing option to some international flights, and some foreign carriers – specifically, Aer Lingus and Scandinavian Airlines – are doing the same as the transatlantic competition from carriers like Norwegian starts to bite.
Six weeks ago, Delta broadened its transatlantic fare lineup when it started selling Comfort+ seating on transatlantic flights for travel starting January 22. And this week Delta announced that Basic Economy fares are now available on more than half of its flights to Europe for travel starting April 10.
And it’s not just Delta. The airline said that on the same date, its partners Air France-KLM and Alitalia will each introduce “a similar basic fare product across the Atlantic.”
“As part of its Basic Economy expansion, Delta is introducing a Basic Economy first checked bag fee for trans-Atlantic routes only,” the company said. “The fee will be standard for Air France-KLM and Alitalia, along with no seat assignments and tickets not being changeable.”
Forbes is reporting that Delta’s new fee on a first checked bag for international Basic Economy travelers will be a stiff $60, and a second checked bag will cost $100.
Basic economy purchasers won’t get a seat assignment until they check in, and they will board last, Delta said. Tickets can’t be changed or refunded, and purchasers can’t get paid or complimentary upgrades, even with Medallion status (although they will still earn Medallion-qualifying miles and dollars).
Delta said it would closely align its international Basic Economy fare restrictions with its domestic rules, which allow purchasers to carry on a bag that can be stowed in the overhead bin. American’s and United’s domestic Basic Economy prices only allow buyers to carry on an item that fits under the seat.
Reports out of Dallas this week said that American Airlines is now offering its own similar no-frills Basic Economy pricing on select international routes – specifically, to most of its destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. There are a few exceptions, including service to Cuba, to San Juan, and to a couple of Mexican destinations. American apparently hasn’t yet put the Basic Economy option on transatlantic flights.
While the big U.S. airlines introduced Basic Economy fares in domestic markets ostensibly to offer pricing levels competitive with fast-growing ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier, critics allege that the airlines’ real intention is to lure customers in with a low fare but then up-sell them to a regular economy seat with a few more frills. In fact, some allege that airlines have simply re-labeled their previous lowest economy fares as Basic Economy.
Delta isn’t the first to bring new low- or no-frills fares to the transatlantic market. A few months ago, Aer Lingus rolled out a new pricing category called Saver fares on flights between Dublin and the U.S. The only things included in that fare are a seat, an in-flight meal and a 10 kg. (22 lbs.) hand luggage allowance.
And effective December 14, SAS will start offering discounted “Go Light” fares on its routes between Scandinavia and the U.S., designed for customers who only have carry-on bags. The new category was introduced on the airline’s intra-European routes in 2015. Except for a checked bag, Go Light fare buyers get the same treatment and service as purchasers of the airline’s regular economy pricing, called Go fares.