How to avoid United Basic Economy

avoid United Basic EconomyAvoid 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.

avoid United Basic Economy

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:

  1. Priority boarding
  2. Full size carry-on permitted
  3. 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.

 

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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    • It depends. Lufthansa has its own thing that’s similar to Basic Economy. If flying Lufthansa, go through the steps of booking through the Lufthansa website to see what restrictions the flight has. If you want to complete the booking elsewhere, you should be able to match up the type of coach ticket by the price shown in each interface.

  1. > United Basic Economy is somewhat avoidable as a United cardholder

    Would you get the same benefit using the “AF-free MileagePlus Card”?

        • Sorry this still did not clarify it for me – part of the issue is what is the real name of the no-annual fee card? Is it just “MileagePlus Card” or “MileagePlus Awards Card”?

          Thanks in advance.

        • Greg, I think you might be mistaken about the MileagePlus and the MileagePlus Awards cards being the same thing.

          The no-fee MileagePlus card is called just that, and it earns 0.5 miles per dollar spent. My partner has this card. There is no mention of it anywhere on Chase’s or United’s site, so it’s hard to know what benefits, beyond the 0.5 points, that it might have. I don’t think it has ever been available for application, only downgrade.

          I believe it gets the 25% bonus when using the MPX app, and I have read conflicting reports as to whether it provides expanded award space. It definitely doesn’t provide a baggage or boarding benefit, so I’m guessing it doesn’t offer a carryon in BE, either.

          The MileagePlus Awards card appears to be a discontinued card that is similar, but slightly inferior, to the Explorer:
          https://www.chase.com/online/Credit-Cards/united_awards-benefits-rewards-new.htm

        • @Ivan X — if your partner has the card, you should be able to confirm whether or not it gives them access to expanded award availability just by logging into their MileagePlus account and searching for United Award tickets on a few routes. You’ll see some flight results say “Available to you exclusively as a Chase MileagePlus credit card holder” or something to that effect (I see something to that effect as a MileagePlus Explorer credit card holder).

        • Good point. The FAQ explicitly says that that card lets you bring a full size bag on board. I’m not familiar with the card’s other perks (if any). If it doesn’t allow a free bag, then you won’t get one with Basic Economy either.

          The good news is that you will “maintain your boarding priority”. So, even if that card doesn’t offer priority boarding, I believe that it will ensure that you get to board ahead of the basic economy group.

  2. What about when booking with points at united.com? Does it default to basic economy?

    Also, I’m interested as well: can we use the downgraded no annual fee mileage plus card to get the above mentioned card benefits?

  3. A better way is to avoid United economy and fly somebody else. They are clearly telling me they don’t want my business and they won’t get it.

  4. I recently booked using the Merrill Lynch points portal from LA to DFW and was not initially able to choose my seats, but after I booked I used the United phone app and was able to reserve window seats.

  5. I’ve been checking and rechecking prices of a certain flight, and just today decided to book through the Chase portal. The price was much cheaper than previously, so it looks like they opened up more seats in a lower fare bucket ($235 vs $380).

    BUT when I clicked “select” it gave me the United Basic Economy warning! The details tab confirmed it was an N fare. I imagine it must have been a bulk ticket release, because United.com still showed 2 Q fares available at $250, but I couldn’t select them. Online check it wasn’t worth it for me to call and book through Chase over the phone, since I have the MPE.

    Question: when do portal bookings show up as “ticketed?” United says the reservation is on hold til midnight.

  6. Regarding the “Chase MileagePlus Card”:
    i have had it since 2005, it was not a downgrade, rather that is what they had at that time as a no fee card.
    0.5 miles per $ but no AF, plus it DOES give you the added award space, so no reason to drop it.

  7. I guess it wasn’t clear when I booked BE because I never imagined you couldn’t take your purse, a small backpack and laptop case. I couldn’t check in online and thought it was a website error (it wasn’t). After waiting in line at check-in, they made me pay to check my small backpack. They wouldn’t even let me PAY to carry it on. My BE money was no good to them! Of course there was no way I was checking my unpadded laptop case so they forced me to awkwardly and forcefully shove it into my purse in front of everyone at LAX United security checkpoint. It split the seams of my purse but I had no choice! What was I supposed to do?? I’m sure they want you to be so frustrated you never purchase that fare in the future. Wrong! I’ll never fly United again after that public humiliation. It’s not something you forget!

  8. When do you recommend flying basic economy?
    Any recommendation?
    Sample case…Gold Status
    MCO –> ORD: Basic Economy $110, Economy $130…
    Distance: 1012 miles

    Light travel…no luggage to check in…

    Thanks

    • In that case it just depends on how much you value the ability to select your seat and have a chance of an upgrade. Personally I’d pay the extra $20 to avoid getting stuck in a middle seat near the rear bathroom

  9. So i just booked a BE ticket but paid using a different credit card. I have my mileague plus explorer card information linked to my united account. Will I be able to check my bag for free? Or should I cancel and rebook using my Explorer credit card? I just booked so I have 24 hours to cancel and rebook. Thanks!

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