Basic economy fares are designed to be nasty. Stripped of such niceties as advance seat assignments, use of the overhead bin, elite-qualifying frequent-flyer miles, same-day flight changes, upgrades, and so on, the so-called unbundled fares have been publicly touted by the airlines as adding more choices for consumers. But airline managers concede that the fares are generally so unattractive that most consumers opt for more inclusive coach fares instead.
The net effect is to create a new base fare—which nobody wants and few buy—allowing airlines to charge more for regular coach, which by comparison appears to be a “premium” product. In other words, it’s a sneaky way to raise average coach airfares.
Delta this week announced yet another restriction to its basic economy fares. For tickets purchased on or after December 6, for travel beginning April 10, 2018, basic economy passengers to Europe will pay $60 for the first checked bag, and $100 for the second bag. While domestic basic economy fares always included bag fees, Europe fares were previously exempt.
That aligns Delta’s policy with those of such ultra-low-cost carriers as WOW and Norwegian Air, but not with United, which still waives checked-bag fees on Europe flights, even for basic economy passengers. (American hasn’t yet begun offering basic economy on its Europe network.) With Delta leading the race to the bottom, however, there’s little doubt the new fees will become the industry standard among all U.S. carriers.
Reader Reality Check
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.