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United Basic Economy: How to Overcome It (and Even Benefit!)

Have you stumbled upon a United Basic Economy fare and wondered about the difference in price?

More and more airlines are introducing Basic Economy fares. And while flying Basic Economy can be a great way to save money, it also has its drawbacks. 

In this guide, let’s take a look specifically at United Basic Economy and everything you need to know about these fares. 

United Basic Economy: How to Overcome It (and Even Benefit!)

What is United Basic Economy?

Think of Basic Economy as no-frills, unbundled flying. This is meant to be a lower-cost option and compete with low-cost carriers, such as Spirit and Frontier Airlines. 

Currently, United Basic Economy routes are still limited, but they continue to expand the fare class. These include both domestic and international routes.

So, I would expect this to eventually roll out to the majority of their routes.

These Basic Economy fares have very few (if any) extras added to your fare. Since this is an unbundled option, you’ll pay more if you want something extra. 

It’s important to understand before buying a Basic Economy ticket that these fares are not the same as booking a standard  United economy ticket.

What are the United Airlines Basic Economy Restrictions?

Airplane parked at the gate

Basic Economy United style comes with plenty of restrictions, such as:

  • No flight changes or refunds allowed (You do have 24 hours from booking to cancel or make changes with no fees.),
  • One personal item only, no full-size carry-on bag,
  • No complimentary seat selections or upgrades,
  • Last zone to board the aircraft, and
  • Group and family seating is not available.

The United Airlines baggage policy for Basic Economy is stricter compared to Delta Basic Economy or American Airlines Basic Economy. Those airlines allow a full-sized carry-on, in addition to a personal item. United only allows a personal item.

The personal item is limited to a bag measuring 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches or less. It needs to fit under the seat in front of you because you don’t receive access to overhead storage space. 

These specific United Airlines carry-on baggage restrictions don’t apply to items like medical devices, mobility aids, or assistant devices. 

If your personal item falls outside the acceptable allowance, you’ll be charged United baggage fees for checked items, plus a $25 gate handling fee. The checked baggage fees will vary depending on the route you’re flying.

However, you can pay for seat selection. The price will vary based on the route you’re flying.

If you are considering this, though, compare the price between a standard economy and Basic Economy ticket against the seat selection cost. 

If you don’t pay for a seat assignment, United Airlines seating will automatically choose a seat for you at check-in.

It is important for families to understand that unless you pay for seating assignments in advance, United does NOT guarantee you’ll be sitting together. 

Even children can be seated away from their parents.

This is a common (and legitimate) complaint from traveling families with young children, but United does make this known as you select Basic Economy. 

Do I Get a Baggage Allowance and Priority Boarding for Having a United Credit Card?

Delsey Paris Luggage Chatelet

Yes, you do, but there’s a catch.

In order to get your baggage allowance and priority boarding on United Airlines, you need to purchase the ticket with your United credit card AND provide your United MileagePlus number when booking. 

The eligible United cards are the:

The eligible United credit cards will allow you to bring a full-size carry-on and give you a free checked bag for you and one companion.

Baggage allowance United Basic Economy

Other airlines like Delta or American Airlines have the free checked bag benefit from your credit card linked to your frequent flyer number. United does not.

Using your United credit card is a great way to minimize the United Basic Economy baggage restrictions. If you plan to take advantage of Basic Economy fares often, it adds a benefit to being a cardholder and helps to offset a credit card annual fee.

Why Can’t I Check-in Online?

If you booked a Basic Economy fare, you won’t be able to check in online, unless you’re checking a bag.

If you aren’t checking a bag, you have to check in at the airport.

The reason is that a representative will check the size of your personal item at the airport against the United Airlines carry-on policy for Basic Economy to make sure it’s the right measurements. 

Remember, with a United credit card you can check a bag so this would allow you to check in online and use just the bag drop lane instead of waiting in line to check in.

If you’re used to just carrying on whenever you fly, you’ll want to make sure you leave enough time to check in at the airport. It may take more time than usual, depending on the number of people checking in or how many representatives working at the time. 

Can I Book United Basic Economy through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal?

The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal does allow you to book United Basic Economy fares with your Ultimate Rewards points.

In this example of booking a nonstop flight from Boston to San Francisco, the Basic Economy fare is $329.30. But, you can use Ultimate Rewards points to pay for part or all of the fare.

If using your Chase Sapphire Reserve with its 1.5 cents per point, it would only cost 21,953 Ultimate Rewards points. 

You’ll even earn redeemable United miles for future flights when you use the Ultimate Rewards portal. 

If you have a United credit card, you’ll NEED to add your United MileagePlus number AND pay part of the cost with your United card to receive your free checked bag benefit. 

Very important!! If you pay completely on points or with a different credit card, you WILL NOT receive your checked bag benefit even though you’re a United cardholder.

The Ultimate Reward portal does a fantastic job of informing you what’s included in your fare. If you decide you want to upgrade your fare, you can do that as well on the payment screen. 

Do I Earn Points on a United Basic Economy Fare?

When booking a paid United Basic Economy fare class, you’ll earn miles for your flights based on the base fare of your flight, not on the miles flown.

You’ll earn 5 miles per dollar based on the Premier Qualifying Dollars and this can increase based on your status level with United.

Basic Economy Fare

For example, on this one-way flight from Newark to Miami, the ticket will cost $154. But, I would only earn miles on the $130 base fare, which will total 650 redeemable miles.

Can I Earn Status Flying United Basic Economy?

The short answer is yes, but it’s increasingly difficult to do so.

United Basic Economy tickets will earn full Premier Qualifying Points (PQP), but won’t earn Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF). 

Bottom line. If you’re someone who has or wants United status, booking Basic Economy fares will make it challenging to earn and maintain top-tier status on United. 

Since Premier Qualifying Flights won’t count, you’d need to spend a lot of money to reach status levels. 

Can I Redeem United Miles for Basic Economy Fares?

Currently, you aren’t able to redeem your United miles for Basic Economy fares. This doesn’t mean United won’t introduce Basic Economy Award Fares in the future.

As we see Delta roll out Basic Economy award fares, it would seem fair to expect United to eventually introduce the same. in the meanwhile, there a plenty of ways to redeem United miles for solid value.

Thoughts on United Basic Economy

Basic Economy is here to stay and we should expect to see airlines like United slowly expand their Basic Economy routes. 

While United Basic Economy has its restrictions, this cost savings can help people travel or travel more frequently. Certainly, it’s fine for individuals who travel lightly and don’t care where they sit. 

The key to success, though, is understanding the rules for United Basic Economy before purchasing a ticket. If you can play by the rules, you can save yourself cash and miles on Basic Economy tickets. 

At the same time, flying Basic Economy on United or any carrier isn’t going to be a great option for everyone. Nor will everyone want to.

If you’re someone who needs to check a bag or prefers to select your own seat, the fees to add these benefits after purchasing your ticket will likely be more expensive than just booking an economy ticket that includes those benefits in the first place.

In addition, families with small children or couples who want to sit with each other should consider purchasing a standard Economy ticket or paying for seat assignments.

This ensures you’ll be able to sit together, without the risk of being separated.

Lastly, with an eligible United credit card like the United Explorer Card, you can get around these restrictions.

So it’s definitely worth considering your money-saving strategy to decide whether having this card in your wallet makes sense for you.

Have you flown United Basic Economy? If so, would you fly it again?

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