Basic Economy vs. Economy

What is it all about?

If you have purchased airfare recently, you’ve probably noticed an option for basic economy fares. It is the least expensive option available and may be something you are drawn to in order to save money. HOWEVER, before purchasing this type of airfare, it is important to understand the restrictions that come with a basic economy ticket.

Copy of Traveling with Kids (2)


Basic economy fares come with cost savings, but the trade off is really in the limitations of this type of fare. There are three different areas that most travelers consider standard and essential when purchasing an airline ticket that basic economy fares may not offer.

Please note that each airline’s policy may vary slightly from one another, so it is best to check out the policy of the specific airline you are purchasing on.

Seat assignments – With basic economy tickets, you will not be able to select your seats in advance or at check-in. This means there is a much higher probability that you will get a dreaded middle seat. You may be offered at check-in the option of selecting your seat but only for a fee in most cases and will vary based on the airline and availability for each flight.

Because seat assignments are assigned for you, if you are traveling with another person and want to sit next to one another, this will not be a good option. This is especially true if you will be traveling with children.

Carry-on luggage – This one has two parts to it.

A.) Some airlines restrict you from bringing carry-on items on board entirely (although there are many that have relaxed this policy because it’s very unrealistic for most people), or they require all carry-ons be stored under the seat in front of you.

B.) Basic economy seats are in the last boarding group meaning most overhead space will be filled. Don’t count on putting your rolling suitcase in the overhead bin; it will need to be gate checked if there is no room. It is best to plan on bringing carry-ons that fit under the seat.


We rarely anticipate needing to make changes to our travel plans, but things happen. With non-refundable regular economy fares, airlines will allow you to make changes your tickets if needed while charging you a hefty change fee to do so in most cases. (Southwest Airlines is the only airline that I am aware of that does not charge change fees these days).

But in the case of a basic economy fare, it’s a different ballgame completely. You will not be allowed to make ANY changes to a basic economy ticket - even if you are willing to pay a change fee. If you need to make a change, you should plan to buy a separate ticket altogether and lose out on the entire amount you have already paid. Depending on the cost of the original ticket, this could be a big deal, and cost you a lot for last minute trip changes.

suitcases lined up

Be careful when you purchase airline tickets

Some of those online travel websites are tricky, so be really cautious when purchasing your airline tickets. The initial pricing on websites like Expedia will show you basic economy fares first, and usually right before check-out will offer you the option to upgrade. If you aren’t paying close attention to what you are clicking on, it can be very easy to accidentally purchase these fares unknowingly.

When should you buy a basic economy ticket?

If you understand the restrictions and are okay with them, then a basic economy ticket may be a good option….but I would highly recommend you purchase insurance to cover your trip costs in the case of a cancellation.

If you are traveling solo, are okay with a middle seat (maybe it is a short flight or you don’t need a lot of leg room), and you have protected your trip with insurance in case of a trip cancellation or interruption, then I think it could be a good option. It will need to fit the needs of your individual trip.

Overwhelmed by all of the different options? Let an expert help! 

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