Why I Never Travel Basic Economy ~ And You Shouldn’t Either

So after publishing my post on how I afford to travel the world, I was asked: “Do you usually book the basic economy tickets?”. The reason is, the site I referred to (Scott’s Cheap Flights) generally has the cheapest flights listed as a basic economy fare.

First Class Boarding Pass

My answer is a resounding NO!

As I recently stated, my airline of choice is American Airlines, so this post will be based mostly on that airline. However, I think that many airlines use the same formula for basic economy ticketing. While I’ve been tempted many times to purchase a basic economy ticket to travel, there are way more benefits to spending the extra money and booking a regular or premium economy fare, and if you can afford to splurge a little, consider traveling in business or first class.

Case in point: my daughter recently booked a basic economy fare to Atlanta to visit a friend and regretted it immensely for all the reasons that I’m listing below. So why don’t I travel the basic economy route?

Why I Never Travel Basic Economy

1. I Love Being Able to Choose My Seat

On many of the airlines that I choose to fly with, I’m able to select my seats while booking, free of charge, when I fly regular economy. With a basic economy ticket, seats are only complimentary when you check-in at the time of your departure. Since I mostly travel with Madison, who enjoys sitting at the window, I want to ensure that we’ll get the seats of our choice, and while most airlines try not to separate families, there’s always that chance that you may be. It also helps that we have platinum status with American Airlines, and there are minimal benefits with your status when you book a basic economy fare.

2. Checked Bags Aren’t Included

While I’m a carry-on traveler as I enjoy making travel as easy as possible, I love having the option of being able to check a bag if I need to, especially if flying long distances. There have been times where I’ve gone with a carry-on and ended up needing to check a bag because I went crazy shopping while on vacation. Generally, that would incur a fee if you’re flying basic economy; however, most airlines include it for free when traveling internationally. The exception is for national flights (flights originating in the US).

American Airlines does have a generous two carry-on limit, and you’ll be amazed at how much you can pack in a carry-on. We recently visited Germany and Austria for two weeks with only carry-on luggage as I prefer getting on and off the plane quickly.

Carry On Luggage

3. You’ll Board Last

If you’ve booked a basic economy fare, know that you will be the last to board for your flight. If you’re a carry-on passenger, what that means is that generally, by the time you get on board, most of the overhead spaces will probably be gone. If it’s a full flight, you may also be asked to check your luggage (though this will be done free at the gate). However, there are exceptions to this as most airlines allow those needing extra help, passengers traveling with children under the age of 2 (some under the age of 12), and military personnel to board early.

4. Basic Economy Fares are Non-Changeable and Often Unrefundable

While you should always have travel insurance, I have to admit that I don’t ALWAYS purchase it. With a basic economy fare, you should! However, I love having the option of being able to change my flight if something goes wrong during my trip, although there’ll be a change flight fee. If you’re traveling basic economy, you don’t have that option (except for long haul flights), and instead would have to purchase a brand new ticket.

Here’s something you may not know (and this is based on American Airlines flights), you’re able to be placed on an earlier standby flight leaving the same day if you’re on a regular economy fare. What that means is that if your original flight is leaving later than you’d like and there’s an earlier flight, they can place you on standby, and you may be able to go earlier than scheduled. This happened on our trip to Costa Rica. We were able to get in almost three hours sooner than we would have. However, on a basic economy fare, it’s not possible.

American Airlines Boarding Classes

5. Fewer Award Miles

Did you know that you earn more miles when you book a regular economy ticket? As someone who collects miles to get free flights, I want to get as many miles as I can, especially if I’m traveling at the last minute. Basic economy fares earn fewer miles since it’s a cheaper ticket, just as the regular economy gets fewer than the premium economy, and business class less than first class. However, if you happen to have elite status, you do get a bonus with your basic economy fare, but not as much as I’d like.

6. Less Elite Status Benefits

It doesn’t matter what your elite status is with most airlines; once you’ve booked a basic economy fare, you lose some of your benefits such as being able to get prime seats beforehand (you’ll have to pay for them), free upgrades on flights, club lounge access, etc. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” However, you do get to keep your boarding priority. As someone who has platinum status with American Airlines, my airline of choice, I enjoy the many benefits that come along with the status, and would rather pay a bit more for my ticket to keep them.

American Airlines Lounge

To Conclude, You Receive Unsubstantial Savings and Fewer Incentives.

Whenever I take a look at how much I’m saving when booking when tempted to travel basic economy, it’s generally not a lot. Between paying for your checked bags and seats, and in some cases your carry-ons (with a few airlines like United), there’s not a substantial amount that you’re saving, as most regular economy tickets can be as little as an extra $75 one way. Personally, I prefer to have peace of mind and all the things mentioned above previously.

I relish being able to use my elite status, but even if you don’t have elite status, knowing that you’ll be able to board earlier; have your pick of seats; not worry about carry-ons getting checked at the gate; having the ability to change flights, etc., makes all the difference in the world to me.

There you have it!

While purchasing a basic economy fare may work well for many people, it generally doesn’t work for me. So the next time you’re thinking about booking that basic economy fare, consider what you’ll gain just by paying a bit extra.


Why You Should Never Travel Basic Economy
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