Have you booked a Delta Basic Economy fare and not sure what you’ve gotten yourself into? Step inside where we dish the truth about what Delta’s basic economy fare really means.
If you follow my blog, you will know that I am a fan of budget airlines, like Spirit and WOW Air, as their rock bottom fares allow people to travel who might not have been able to previously. I think this is a wonderful thing. So you can imagine my surprise to find that on a flight to Florida on Delta, I had booked what turned out to be their budget fare the Delta Basic Economy. At the time I had no idea what that meant, but now I do and it’s not pretty.
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What is the Delta Basic Economy Fare?
As many airlines have been doing in recent years, Delta has followed suit adding in ‘basic’ fares that restrict your ability to check in early, choose a seat or even cancel your flight. With 3 different types of fares, Comfort+, Main Cabin and Basic Economy, Delta has created a system of restrictions to varying degrees based on which fare you purchase.
Note that if you are an Elite member of Delta’s frequent flyer program some of the restrictions are waived for you.
Your Questions Answered About the Delta Basic Economy Fare
Can I Check My Luggage?
With the Delta Basic Economy fare you can carry on and check luggage. As with all airlines (except Southwest!) any checked luggage will cost you (see the price chart here). This is one aspect of traveling on the basic economy fare that you are not short changed with – baggage fees are the same for all classes of travel – Basic Economy, Economy and Comfort+.
The only exception to this is for flights between the US/Canada and the Europe/North Africa. Basic Economy passengers will have to pay a hefty fee ($60 per bag at time of writing) for checked luggage on these flights. We did not find this to be the case on our flight to Costa Rica, but as Delta continues to hone it’s policies I would not be surprised to see this as an additional charge in the future.
Can I Bring a Carry-On?
Unlike other airlines, even with the Basic Economy fare, passengers are still allowed to carry on a personal item as well as a full size carry-on bag. The bag must be no larger 22 x 14 x 9 inches, which is pretty standard. The caveat here comes in with the boarding order. As the last group to board, it is a frequent problem of no overhead space available meaning you will have to check your carry-on bag at the gate.
My recommendation is to come to the airport prepared to check your carry-on at the gate (for free!) with your most important technology and items separated into a smaller personal bag. On my last 3 Delta basic economy flights I have found luggage space even boarding in the last group.
TRAVELERS TIP: Get your bag “checked in” at the gate, but carry it on the flight with you. If there is no space to put your bag once you are on the flight, you will only have to walk back to the gateway to drop your bag, rather than go back to the gate desk and do the entire procedure there.
Do I Get To Choose My Seat?
No. The one caveat with Delta Basic economy fares is that you have zero choice in your seat selection at check-in or at the gate.
However, Delta has recently introduced a new option that allows passengers to pay for an upgrade in seats on select itineraries. The seats are priced based on each leg and are only available on only domestic flights. This is only available PRIOR to check in. If you want to book a specific seat, you will need to avail of this upgrade if available well between 7 days and 24 hours of the flight.
For our recent international flight, I was flying with my son on a red eye basic economy fare. I was concerned we would not get seats together, but surprisingly we were provided seats at check-in and they were together! Thus, on international flights, you might be allowed to choose your seats or given seat selections prior to arriving at the airport. This is not guaranteed however.
Note: Families traveling together even under the same reservation ARE NOT GUARANTEED to be seated together on any basic economy fare ticket.
When Do I Board?
As a Delta basic economy passenger your boarding group is always last. You cannot upgrade your boarding. What this means is less cabin space for your carry-on bags. See above for recommendations on how to prepare for this.
Are Flight Changes Allowed?
Unfortunately with the Delta Basic Economy fare, there are absolutely no changes allowed. This means you cannot cancel your flight (after the 24 hour booking window expires) and cannot change to same day standby options.
Do I Earn Miles?
Delta basic economy fare passengers still earn miles, however they are calculated as a discounted fare rate.
A Personal Experience with the Delta Basic Economy Fare
It had been at least a year since I’d flown on my own. As a family traveler I am almost always with my little one in tow. So you know that I was super stoked to be heading out on a 5+ hour flight all by my lonesome. I had grand plans for working, reading and just enjoying the silent buzz of the airplane engines.
Well that is until I went to check in. Being the good traveler that I am, I had downloaded the Delta App in advance, assuming that would make my online check in quicker and easier. I’m not sure if it helped or hurt, but it was the medium in which my negative experience began.
For once I was right on time to check in. As soon as I tried to check in, the Delta App informed me that ‘one or more passengers on your itinerary are on standby so you cannot check in’
What‽ Standby? How could I be on standby‽
I bought this ticket with miles (through my Chase credit card), so I knew that it was bought and paid for. How could I not have a seat? My mind started to spin. Would I make it to my conference?! Was my entire trip going to be fraught with anxiety over getting bumped from my flights?
I immediately got on the phone to Delta’s customer service. Weaving my way through the voice command system amongst the noise of my son’s school, I finally got through, not to an actual agent but to a recording telling me that there was a ‘more than 2 hour wait’ and I could have them call me back. Obviously that’s what I would do, so confirmed and moved on still feeling anxious about whether I would even have a seat!
As always happens with these callbacks, I missed the call! This resulted in another call with another 2 hour wait time. After 7 hours of stress worrying about my flight I was relieved to finally get to answer the callback I had been waiting for all day.
Unfortunately this call would only be a bandaid that didn’t stick.
I unraveled my story for the customer service agent who then quickly informed me that she had secured me a seat. A middle seat as that is all that was left. I had known that was coming because there were only a few aisle seats on the seat map when I tried to check in 7 hours previously.
After much back and forth I was told it was a mistake that I was put on the standby list and that unfortunately she couldn’t do anything on the phone but that I would be ‘assured’ a better seat if I got to the airport 90 minutes early and saw a gate agent. I didn’t trust her, but what could I do? At least I now knew I had an actual seat, so that was one stress gone.
Flying on the Delta Basic Economy Fare
Arriving to the airport almost 2 hours early it was not surprising when I couldn’t find a Delta representative. I went ahead through security straight to the gate to sort out my seats. Not able to find the person I was supposed to search for, I began a conversation with the gate agent who started to clue me into the secret realities of the basic economy fare that I had unknowingly purchased.
I remember when booking the flight, a pop up box appeared stating that I would not be eligible for complimentary upgrade seats or able to purchase upgrades for this flight. Sure fine with me. I don’t need to upgrade. Nowhere on that pop up did it tell me that purchasing this fare would mean I would be treated like a second class citizen.
The gate agent found herself in a sticky situation when I began repeating back some of the things she was saying to me like ‘With basic economy fares you are only guaranteed a seat if one is available‘. Huh? So does this mean if the flight is overbooked I’m the first to be bumped? It appears so. I’m not living in a closet, I’ve seen all these horrible stories about how airlines are bumping people these days. So you can imagine the panic that swept through me, sending my heart rate a flutter. I can’t be bumped! I am on a tight schedule with a kid waiting at home.
As I began to question the gate agent more, she decided to call for another Delta representative, one wearing the red jacket I had been on the hunt for!
I patiently explained the situation again to Sylvia, the Delta representative. She disagreed with the phone operator saying that no in fact it is not a mistake that I was put on standby. That is what this ticket gives me… standby for a seat assignment. What?
As I go back and forth with Sylvia it becomes clear that the little pop up warning box provided when purchasing this ticket is not quite accurate. According to Sylvia, the basic economy fare means a middle seat. That’s it. No other options. So the advertisement on the website about ‘don’t mind where you sit?’ Actually means ‘don’t mind sitting in a middle seat? Then book this fare’
She even went on to say that she can’t even give me an aisle or window seat even if she tried. Really‽ Doubtful. After much back and forth with Sylvia, she was in fact able to get me a seat assignment on both of my flights as well as my return flights. Shockingly, they were all also aisle or window seats that she mentioned she couldn’t give me. Did I want to argue with her for 45 minutes before a flight? No, not at all. But I was thankful that I now knew I would make my conference and not get bumped on what ended up being very overbooked flights in/out of Atlanta.
The Problem: Lack of Transparency
The biggest issue here for me with Delta’s Basic Economy fare is a lack of true transparency. Delta is telling customers to purchase these cheaper fares (which weren’t that cheap in the first place to be honest) saying that the only drawback is not getting to choose your seat until ‘after check in’. Since my initial flight oa basic economy fare 3 years ago, they have started to add in a bit more information about what it means to purchase this ticket, however they are still not being clear about what their internal policy is for this flight.
In reality, in Delta speak: you will only get a middle seat even if others are available, at the gate after every other client paying and non paying get a choice in seats. But to a customer not privy to this inside speak, you might believe that this only means you don’t get to choose your seat at time of purchase but can after the check in window opens aka 24 hours in advance.
The problem here is lack of transparency. Budget airlines are popular because they offer cheap flights AND they all are extremely transparent about their policies. You know when you purchase a seat on their flights what it does or doesn’t come with. Delta on the other hand is being deceptive about what booking a Basic Economy Fare means, which is the first step in creating fights with customers.
On my flight, 6 aisle/window seats remained open with tons of passengers squashed in their middle seats never even given an option to get an aisle or window – even at the gate! When they asked on the flight if they could move to an empty seat, they were told no. That the empty seats available were for premium paying passengers.
Should You Purchase a Delta Economy Fare?
Several years after my first experience with Delta’s basic economy fare, I have gone against my “I will never again” policy and flown more than a dozen times on this fare.
At the end of the day, knowing that I can get to my destination is important, but as a solo mom traveler, it is also important to save some cash when possible. Looking to add $75 or more to each flight just for the option of choosing a seat hasn’t swayed my away from these fares. I have had good and bad experiences, reflecting much of what it’s like to travel these days in general.
What has changed for me is my expectation. I now know what to expect and come prepared. I expect to not sit with my child. I expect to be bumped if the flight is overbooked. I expect to sit in a middle seat.
As long as I book the fare with this intention, the stress is reduced and I can enjoy my hopefully cheaper flight.
⇒ If you are a solo traveler who doesn’t mind where you sit, go for it.
⇒ If you are a family traveler traveling with one or more children, think twice before booking this fare. Can you handle the extra stress of bargaining with other passengers so that you can sit with your children?
Recapping: The Truth About the Delta Basic Economy Fare
- You do not get to choose your seat. It will be assigned at the gate and will most often be a middle seat.
- You will be high on the list for bumping should your flight be overbooked.
- You board last insuring that very little cabin space is available for your carry on.
- You will receive the longest customer service call back time should you need to speak to an actual person.
Given these realities about the E-class Basic Economy Fare by Delta I highly discourage families from booking these fares. If any pop up box comes up while booking informing you of the inability to upgrade, take note and search for another fare.
Have you ever booked a ‘cheap fare’ without realizing it? What did you do about it?
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