Avoid United Basic Economy
In the time since I published “How to avoid basic economy when paying with points,” United rolled out their Basic Economy product to virtually all domestic routes. And, it turns out that United Basic Economy is the worst. They offer no advanced seat assignments, no ability to upgrade, no same day changes or refunds, no overhead carry-ons, and no elite qualifying earnings. And, just to really make your life miserable, if you don’t pay online to check your bag, then you can’t check in at all until you get to the airport. Since Basic Economy passengers do not get advanced seat assignments, this means that you’re virtually guaranteed the worst middle seat on the plane.
This post highlights a number of ways to avoid United Basic Economy.
Easy to avoid United Basic Economy with certain points
Luckily, several pay with points programs automatically avoid United Basic Economy when using points to pay for airfare. I found that each of the following programs automatically find United regular economy rather than Basic Economy (important note: the same is not true for Delta flights):
- Amex Travel
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Citi ThankYou Rewards
- US Bank Altitude & FlexPerks
But, the following programs book United Basic economy with no apparent way out:
- Merrill Lynch: Unfortunately, according to a reader named Neal, there seems to be no way to avoid United Basic Economy when using Merrill Lynch card points. He tried online and via phone.
- Visa Infinite Discount Air Benefit: A few Visa Infinite credit cards come with the Discount Air Benefit ($100 off domestic round-trip flights booked for 2+). I tested the CNB version and could not find any way to pull up United’s regular economy fares. Worse, the interface did not identify the flights as basic economy in any way whatsoever. I’m assuming basic economy from the pre-discounted price.
Easy to avoid United Basic Economy at United.com
When booking flights through United.com, United clearly shows basic economy and regular economy prices side by side:
And if you then select Basic Economy, United warns you that you’re about to enter a world of hurt, and makes you confirm:
Easy to avoid United Basic Economy with many Online Travel Agencies
Most online travel agencies indicate Basic Economy in their search results. Here’s Expedia, for example:
And then some will let you buy up to regular economy on the next screen. Here’s Expedia again:
United Basic Economy is somewhat avoidable as a United cardholder
If you buy Basic Economy, United MileagePlus credit cards give you several exceptions to the Basic Economy limitations. Exceptions granted by United credit cards include:
- Priority boarding
- Full size carry-on permitted
- Free checked bag for primary cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation. By indicating online that you intend to check a bag, you’ll also be able to check-in online.
For priority boarding and carry-on bags, you do not need to pay with the United credit card in order to get these benefits, you just need to have added your MileagePlus frequent flyer number to the reservation. But, to get a free checked bag, you must pay for the flight with your United MileagePlus credit card.
United Basic Economy is somewhat avoidable as a United Premier Elite
MileagePlus Premier members and Star Alliance Gold members are granted the following exceptions:
- Priority boarding based on your status
- Full size carry-on permitted
- Free checked bag(s). Number of bags allowed depends upon your status level (found here). By indicating online that you intend to check a bag, you’ll also be able to check-in online.