Are Basic Economy Fares Good for Business Travel?

All four of the biggest U.S. airlines—Delta, United, Alaska, and American—have rolled out what they’re calling “basic economy” fares. The word “basic” is meant to connote no-frills, bare-bones tickets.  While they’re the cheapest fares available, but they come with many risks for business travelers.

>> Related: Business Travel Trends in 2023 <<

What Are Basic Economy Fares?

A basic economy fare will be the cheapest available on a flight, usually by about $25 on average. New restrictions and fees have been introduced, including some for things that used to be considered standard with every flight, like the ability to pick your own seat and use of the overhead bins. U.S. carriers JetBlue and Southwest have not announced plans to join this trend.

On all four airlines, each basic economy ticket includes:

Why Are Basic Economy Fares Being Introduced?

Budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant, which have bare-bones fares, show up first in airfare search results online, bumping the major airlines down the list. That takes business away from the legacy competitors. The big four are now trying to beat the budget guys at their own game.

Why Basic Economy May Not Be Ideal for Business Travelers:

The basic economy structures for Delta, United, Alaska, and American differ slightly.

Overhead bins:

With United, Alaska, and American basic economy fares, passengers are allowed to carry on only one personal item, and it must fit beneath the seats. If you buy a basic economy seat, you will not be allowed to use the overhead bins. If you try to board the flight with a full-size carry-on, you’ll have to check it at the gate for a $25 fee. Delta has not added this restriction to its basic economy structure.

Seat selection:

On all four carriers, your seat will be assigned after you check in for your flight. Many will assign your seat at the time of boarding. If you are traveling in a group or family, the seats will still be assigned at random at the time of boarding (airlines do not make a promise to seat you together with your family).

Changes and refunds:

Under federal law, each customer has 24 hours after booking a flight to get a refund. After that period ends, basic economy customers do not have a chance of getting their money back, nor will they allow you to make changes to your reservation.

Meanwhile, one in four flights have been delayed in 2023.  Your travelers may have to cancel and rebook flights outright when they’re late for key meetings and events.

Mileage Credit:

Mileage accrual is based on the carrier and structure of their basic economy fare. For example, on American, even if you are an elite flyer, you will earn only half the air miles; meanwhile, on United, you get the miles, but no Premier credit. Delta and Alaska, however, are more generous and permit normal mileage accrual.


You will not be eligible for any upgrades, regardless of your status in the companies’ loyalty programs.


Basic economy customers will be in the last group to board the plane.

Expedited Security:

Unless you are a TSA PreCheck and/or Global Entry member, you will not be allowed expedited security.