Delta Expands Basic Economy to More Award Flights – Here’s What You Can Do About It

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Late last year, Delta began offering Basic Economy on award tickets on limited routes, and early this month they expanded this to many more award flights in the US and Canada, including Hawaii.  My question is, now that Delta offers Basic Economy award flights, how long will it be before American Airlines and United Airlines follow suit?  Ugh.

Delta’s Basic Economy isn’t as restrictive as some, and we are seeing lower prices for Basic Economy awards.  Plus, if you’ve got a card like the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express, or Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express, you can circumvent some of the restrictions.  But there are certain things you need to be aware of if booking a Basic Economy seat with your miles.

Delta doesn’t have the worst Basic Economy, but I’m not happy that this is the new normal

Delta Expands Basic Economy Awards

Here are Delta’s Basic Economy restrictions:

  • No ticket changes, cancellations, or upgrades allowed
  • No free seat selection until after check-in
  • Checked baggage fee will apply on select international routes in addition to domestic flights
  • You’ll board the plane dead last

If you’ve got a Basic Economy award and need to change your plans after the 24-hour cancellation period, you can’t.  There is no redeposit fee you can pay – you’ll just be out the miles.

Also, you won’t be able to select your seat until 24 hours before your flight when you check-in.  And you’ll only be able to choose your seat then if there are non-preferred seats available, otherwise you’ll get your seat assignment at the gate.

On some domestic flights, you might have the option to pay extra for seat selection 7 days to 24 hours from departure.  But the big thing to watch out for is that if you’re traveling with a group (including families with children), there is no guarantee that you’ll be seated together.

In addition to these restrictions, Delta charges $30 one-way for a standard checked bag on domestic flights for Basic Economy, Main Cabin, or Delta Comfort+ tickets.  But there are also select international routes where if you’re flying on a Basic Economy fare, you’ll be hit with checked baggage fees.  For example, Basic Economy ticket holders will be charged a $60 checked bag fee on flights from the US to Europe.  For now, there aren’t Basic Economy award flights to Europe (this only applies to cash fares), but they will be here eventually.

How to Take Some of the Sting Out of Basic Economy

If you’ve got Delta Elite status, Basic Economy won’t be quite as rough as you’ll get:

  • Waived checked bag fee (when applicable to your flight and status level)
  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in

But even as an elite member you won’t have access to paid or complimentary upgrades on Basic Economy tickets.  That’s a big hit.

For the rest of us, we can get priority boarding and the first checked bag free (for you and up to 8 companions on the same itinerary) if you have any of these Delta cards:

To get these perks, you don’t actually need to pay for your flight with your Delta card because the benefits are linked to your frequent flyer account.

Are Basic Economy Award Prices Actually Cheaper?

Yes, Basic Economy awards are cheaper than Main Cabin awards.  But how much cheaper depends on when you’re traveling.

For example, I found Main Cabin award flights from Raleigh/Durham to Tampa starting at 11,000 miles round-trip, while Basic Economy awards on the same route started at 10,000 miles round-trip.

But there’s a lot more availability when it comes to the Basic Economy award tickets, including flights that were pricing out higher than 11,000 miles.

I’m probably not going to book a Basic Economy award to save only 1,000 miles, but if I’m saving 4,000 then I’d consider it.

While Basic Economy awards should always be cheaper than Main Cabin awards, my fear is that Basic Economy becomes the new saver level award.  I don’t know what award flights for this specific route cost before Basic Economy was added, but in the past, Delta has regularly had domestic round-trip awards on sale for as little as 10,000 miles.

In general, it looks like Basic Economy awards are cheaper than what Main Cabin awards used to be.  During a recent Delta award sale, there were Basic Economy awards to Hawaii for only 22,000 miles round-trip, which was 9,000 fewer miles than the advertised sale price.  But because Delta doesn’t have an award chart, how long it will be before the price of Basic Economy awards creep up to what we used to pay for Main Cabin awards?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Hat tip:  Thrifty Traveler

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