Basic economy fares have taken the airline industry—well, the big three of United, American, and Delta anyway—by storm, for better or worse. On one hand, so-called bare fares give customers more options and the ability to (theoretically) save a few bucks in exchange for stripped-down services.
On the other hand, these fares further devalue the flying experience in general. They also reduce the number of traditional economy seats on a plane.
Either way, these fare classes appear to be here to stay, and the industry is adapting. Kayak has added a new feature that highlights basic fares whenever they’re available, allowing consumers to compare their options directly.
When a basic economy fare is available, Kayak displays two small drop-down menus, one labeled “Basic Economy” and one labeled “Main Cabin.” The main price displayed is the basic economy fare. The Main Cabin drop down shows how much it will cost to “upgrade” to that formerly standard service. Clicking the drop-down shows what is and isn’t included in the respective fare types. It’s a simple, straightforward way of presenting this info and helps travelers make an informed decision.
Kayak president Keith Melnick told Today in the Sky that, for the moment, customers won’t encounter this feature too frequently. Only three airlines sell basic economy fares, and they’re typically only available on routes where those airlines compete with ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit. But as fare fragmentation continues, expect to see Kayak (and possibly other booking sites) scrambling to keep up.
Setting aside for a moment the debate over basic economy fares, it’s reassuring to see a site like Kayak offer such a customer-friendly feature. These increasingly complex fare structures make it harder for travelers to compare options and make sure they get the fare that’s right for them. Again, for better or worse, travelers will rely on tools like this to make informed purchasing choices.
This doesn’t mean basic economy fares are a good development. Some travelers see the fares as part of a slow, steady erosion of service kicked off by American when it launched checked bag fees almost 10 years ago. But like them or not, any tool that brings transparency to the booking process is a good one.