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

Here’s how to avoid Basic Economy with popular pay-with-points programs:

  • Amex Travel no longer shows Basic Economy as an option when searching online.
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards now offers a filter to remove Basic Economy from your search results
  • Citi ThankYou Rewards does not offer a way to avoid Basic Economy online. It is necessary to call to avoid Basic Economy.
  • US Bank does not offer a way to avoid Basic Economy online. It is necessary to call to avoid Basic Economy.
  • 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 found they they no longer offer Basic Economy online, so it’s easy to avoid.

For up-to-date details about avoiding Basic Economy with these programs, please see: How to avoid basic economy when paying with points.

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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escotChase now lets you exclude Basic Economy! Amex excludes it automatically. - Frequent MilerGreg The Frequent MilerGreg NJessica Recent comment authors
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Ark
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Ark

Would booking a partner airline like Lufthansa avoid Basic Economy?

Filippo
Guest
Filippo

> United Basic Economy is somewhat avoidable as a United cardholder

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

Anthony
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Anthony

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?

Angie
Guest
Angie

What about using krisflyer to book a United coach seat? What happens there? Thanks.

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[…] UPDATE: With United Airlines, it’s pretty easy to avoid Basic Economy with many pay with points options.  For full details, see: How to avoid United Basic Economy. […]

joE
Guest
joE

It’s only a matter of time before they make all award bookings, partner or not, default to Basic Economy.

Jrob
Guest
Jrob

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.

Joe Q
Guest
Joe Q

How does one add the MileagePlus cc number to a reservation, without using that cc to pay for the airfare?

Cory
Guest
Cory

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.

jersey
Guest
jersey

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.

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[…] like United is going big with Basic Economy, sad! How to avoid it. And see how it has expanded since its introduction. Sadly, it is here to stay I am […]

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[…] How to avoid United Basic Economy. […]

Mark Grant
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Mark Grant

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.

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

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!

William S
Guest

You had THREE personal items? And they told you at booking you can only have ONE? And now you blame them? Shame on you!

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

Oh please! It was not clear at booking at all. Shame on United for tricking people. I’m not flying them again. Southwest only!

Samuel
Guest
Samuel

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

Jacinto
Guest
Jacinto

US Bank Flex perks awards now offering Basic Economy.

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[…] travelers sometimes can only guess what they are getting. Frequent Miler’s excellent guide, How to avoid United Basic Economy, shows the problem facing the […]

Bill
Guest
Bill

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!

escot
Guest
escot

Hi Greg, Apologies if you’re updated this in another post, but this statement is no longer accurate, regarding Chase UR:

“I found that each of the following programs automatically find United regular economy rather than Basic Economy.”

With Chase UR, the flight search now DOES default to the Basic Economy fares — though there seems to be a few hour delay in posting new fares.

At first, I wasn’t even finding the regular economy fares…. But then I tried the “exclude basic economy” fares filter…. and le voila! — Once I did that, then the regular economy fares appeared. (and the corresponding CUR point requirements)

Relieved to know this option is really available. Just dreaded the thought of splitting up the family on last minute holiday travel. (that plus the luggage)

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[…] my guide “How to avoid basic economy when paying with points“.  Thanks to reader escot, I had learned that Chase now lets you filter out Basic Economy online when paying with points for […]