What is United Airlines Basic Economy?

What is UA Basic Economy and why should you care?

What is United Airlines Basic Economy? + main

I'm continuing this series on Basic Economy and today we will dive in to learn more about the United Airlines Basic Economy product.

What is Basic Economy?

United Airlines was the first domestic airline to offer basic economy in direct response to the cheap fares offered by Spirit and Frontier. That said, United's version of Basic Economy is different from that offered by American and Delta.

United Airlines Basic Economy Overview

United Airlines advertises their Basic Economy as an offering for customers who may be more price-sensitive. Restrictions vary based on final destination. There are two restriction buckets:

  • Trans-Atlantic flights (US-Europe)
  • All other flights (North America, Central/South America, and Asia)

Baggage Restrictions

Regardless of the destination, United Basic Economy fares do not include any free checked bags.

On trans-Atlantic flights (US-Europe and vice-versa), your carry-on baggage allowance is the same as for standard Economy tickets. This means you are allowed to bring one full-sized carry-on bag and one personal item for free.

On all other Basic Economy routes, you are only permitted to bring a free personal item that fits under the seat in front of you. In my experience, United is extremely picky about this restriction and they will not hesitate to charge you for your full-sized carry-on bag. This means you will owe both the applicable checked bag fee, plus a $25 gate handling charge. Ouch.

Check-in Restrictions

With Basic Economy, United only allows you to check in for your flight through united.com or the United app if you indicate that you're checking a bag and pay the associated fee. If you begin check-in and do not indicate that you're checking a bag, you'll need to finish checking in for your flight at the airport. This allows agents to verify that you are complying with their strict Basic Economy baggage rules.

Seat Selection Restrictions

One major drawback to Basic Economy is that you will have to pay an extra fee to choose a seat. Otherwise, complimentary seats will be randomly assigned at check-in.

When flying on a Basic Economy ticket, Economy Plus seating is not available for purchase.

United goes out of their way to note that customers traveling in a group, including families, will not be able to sit together unless advance seat assignments are purchased and seats are available.

No Upgrade Eligibility

Basic Economy tickets are not eligible for complimentary, earned, or mileage upgrades. As I mentioned on my post about American's Basic Economy product, I would not necessarily count this as a major disadvantage as upgrades rarely clear these days, or cost an excessive amount of miles/cash.

Boarding Group

Basic Economy ticket holders board in the last group. This often means that there is limited overhead bin space for your carry-on bags and you will sometimes have to gate-check them (for free) to your destination. Be sure to remove any fragile or important items if you are required to gate-check your bag.

No Flight Changes or Refunds

Changes are not permitted for ticketed Basic Economy fares, including advance and same-day flight changes. Refunds are only allowed if they are made within 24 hours of purchasing and the flight is at least 7-days in the future.

Basic Economy Work Arounds

Now that we've covered the basics, there are a few workarounds that can help you 'hack' the United Airlines Basic Economy experience for the better. These apply to two specific groups which you may or may not already be a part of:

  • MileagePlus credit holders: If you hold a United MileagePlus credit card, you will be allowed one full-sized carry-on bag. Other baggage benefits with your associated credit card(s) also apply.
  • MileagePlus elite status members: Elite status benefits for both checked bags and boarding groups apply regardless of ticket type. Keep in mind that Basic Economy tickets are not eligible for upgrades or same-day flight change benefits.

Running into any issues? Have additional questions? Send me a note — chase@usealtitude.com — and I'll happily help you out.

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