Let’s say you are going to Washington, D.C., in mid-January. It’s post-holidays and you have bills to pay, so cost is important.
You find a fare on American from Los Angeles for $277. It’s a good schedule and the price is right.
But wait. It’s for “basic economy.” What does that mean?
Basic economy is the legacy airlines’ effort to compete with low-cost carriers by offering lower-priced tickets that have restrictions — plenty of them. You can find them on the websites of American, United and Delta; each differs a bit, so be sure to check before you book.
Basic economy means you generally can’t:
>> Choose your seat in advance. A seat will be assigned to you, and you don’t have a say in where it is.
>> Use the overhead bins on United or American unless you have some sort of airline status. Delta doesn’t have that overhead restriction. That means you must pay to check a bag, send your clothing ahead or take a case small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.
>> Sit with your family. Unless you’re lucky, you’re not going to be traveling as a group.
>> Board before anyone else. You’ll be among the last on the plane.
>> Upgrade to another class of service. There isn’t a way, in most cases, to buy a cheap ticket that’s a gateway to nicer seats using your airline miles or money.
>> Get your money back if you must cancel a flight.
>> Get frequent-flier miles.
WHY buy basic? You can save money.
Sonia Robledo, the owner of the Traveling With Sonia agency in Riverside, Calif., found a basic fare for $245 on United for a client flying from Dallas to Bakersfield, Calif., to San Francisco and back to Dallas.
A not basic fare? $745, she said.
If you’re not flying basic economy, you should thank those people who are.
“Because of basic economy, there are now 30 percent fewer mainline flights where the overhead bins fill up, and we’ve seen a 50 percent decline in the number of bags needing to be tagged and checked at the gate,” said Maggie Schmerin, a United representative.
“All of this is leading to faster turn times with our aircraft and a quicker boarding process for customers.”
Basic may not be for you, but it can help you. You may not save money, but you’ll save time, and that’s almost as precious.