Delta Basic Economy vs. Main Cabin: What’s the difference

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These days, airlines have jazzy words to classify everything type of seat: Economy, Basic Economy, Economy Plus, Main Cabin, etc. Is there really a difference in experience within the coach cabin? When flying Delta, the difference between Main Cabin fares and Basic Economy is best summed up by one question: Do you care where you sit? If your answer is no, then the Basic Economy experience can save you a few extra bucks. If you simply can’t fly when you’re not seated at a window (the view!), though, you’ll want to go the Main Cabin route.

Here’s everything you need to know between Basic Economy and Main Cabin tickets — and how to negate most of its disadvantages simply by having the right airline credit card!

(Photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock)

What is Delta Basic Economy?

Delta’s Basic Economy tickets provide passengers with the most budget-friendly onboard experience available. If you don’t mind where you sit, and that’s part of the fun of travel for you, Basic Economy is the route to go to save a little money. You’ll get the same inflight experience as the Main Cabin tickets, like the four-inch recliner seats and food and beverage service — but you won’t get your seat assignment until after you check in. 

You’ll also have more restrictions on seat upgrades, flight changes and cancellations.

Note: During the coronavirus pandemic, Delta has taken safety precautions and made some changes to the onboard experience, including limited food and beverage offerings. Read our post on the airlines taking the most precautions for COVID-19 for more details.

Difference between Basic Economy and Main Cabin Delta fares

There are a few differences between Delta’s basic economy and Main Cabin flight experiences. Let’s take a look at a few key comparisons.

Checked bag policy

All Main Cabin travelers on domestic Delta flights pay $30 for the first checked bag (under 50 pounds). Your second bag will cost you $40. But there is a work-around: If you have the right Delta credit card, if you’ve reached Delta Medallion elite status, OR if you are Active Duty Military, your first checked bag is free. 

Carry-on policy

Policies are the same for Main Cabin tickets are they are for Basic Economy. In Delta’s Basic Economy class, you’ll get one complimentary carry-on bag, plus a personal item. But here’s a tip: If overhead bin space is limited, your carry-on bag might be checked at the gate free of charge. If you know you don’t need anything in the bag, in the event of a misplacement (think: prescriptions or glasses), this is a great way to get a “checked” bag free. 

Change and cancellation policies

With a Basic Economy fare, you won’t be able to change or cancel your Delta flight after the 24-hour risk-free cancellation period. These fares are also ineligible for upgrades to premium seats, including Delta Comfort+ or preferred seating. 

Boarding

With a Delta basic economy fare, you will not be permitted to pay for preferred boarding and will be placed in the last boarding group. However, if you have a Delta credit card you’ll still get priority boarding even when flying on a Basic Economy ticket.

Seat selection

If choosing your seat is important to you, you can also select Preferred Seats for a fee. That fee is waived for Delta’s Medallion Members. You can only select a seat within seven days of departure, and you’ll have to pay a fee for every leg of the trip, so costs can quickly add up if you’re connecting. 

Entertainment

In both Main Cabin and Basic Economy seats, complimentary entertainment like music, games, and access to HBO and Showtime, help the miles fly by. Again, it’s the same onboard experience.

Food and beverage

Both experiences give you free snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. You may purchase alcoholic drinks for an additional fee onboard. 

Why consider Basic Economy fares?

For starters, basic economy is the most cost-effective way to travel. If you don’t mind boarding last, finding out your seat late, and a few other amenity shifts, it’s not a bad way to travel, especially when it’s an unexpected, last-minute trip, which can add up. You’ll even earn Medallion Qualifying Miles, Medallion Qualification Segments and Medallion Qualification Dollars at the same rate you would with a regular Main Cabin ticket!

If you hold a Delta credit card or possess Delta status, you can circumvent most of the inconveniences of Basic Economy fares.

Is Basic Economy worth it?

To answer this question, it all boils down to preferences. Delta’s Basic Economy experience, like with many other major airlines, is worth it if you don’t mind giving up a few amenities. While not knowing your seat assignment in advance, for example, may not be a huge deal for you, it’s a deal-breaker to others — like families with small children who need to ensure they sit together. In this case, it’s pretty simple: Do you want to know your seat, or do you want to save money?

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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