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How I Outsmart Basic Economy (And Still Get a Checked Bag)

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How I Outsmart Basic Economy (And Still Get a Checked Bag)

Meghan HunterHow I Outsmart Basic Economy (And Still Get a Checked Bag)Million Mile Secrets Team

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INSIDER SECRET: The key to outsmarting the pitfalls of basic economy is having a credit card that offers perks like free checked bags and priority boarding.

There’s no doubt that while basic economy fares are cheaper, they can also be a pain. There are a lot of restrictions, and if you don’t plan ahead you can end up having to pay for your carry-on bag or as the last person allowed to board the plane.

But while I was booking a recent trip I noticed something interesting.

The one-way basic economy ticket I wanted was going for $199 and a standard economy ticket was $234, for a difference of $35.  Technically you could save $5 by booking in basic economy and just paying to check your bag ($30). But with the right credit card, you could avoid many of the hassles associated with a basic economy fare and save the whole $35.

I’ll explain.

Flying basic economy doesn’t have to be a terrible experience. (Photo by lunopark/Shutterstock)

Tricks to Avoiding the Pains of Basic Economy

Two of the most frustrating parts about booking a basic economy fare are being forced to board last and being restricted to just one personal item (no carry-ons). But if you book your ticket using the right card you’ll get perks like priority boarding and a free checked bag, avoiding the main hassles usually associated with that fare type.

For example, because I have the United℠ Business Card, I was able to book the basic economy ticket shown below for $199, get priority boarding, AND use my free checked bag perk.

There are certain restrictions you’ll have to be aware of when it comes to booking a basic economy ticket.

In comparison, the economy flight was going for $234. So I got all of those perks and saved $35 off the fare. I’ll take that deal any day of the week.

That said, it’s important to remember that you likely won’t be able to select a seat with a basic economy fare, which can cause issues for families or groups wishing to sit together. Here’s a great guide to the basic economy fare rules from each of the major airlines and tips to avoid checked baggage fees.

Also, take a look at this list of the best credit cards to avoid baggage fees. Free checked bag perks are common with co-branded airline credit cards, but don’t forget about the other cards that can help you avoid charges for airline checked baggage. American Express offers several cards that include annual statement credits to cover incidental fees for your preferred airline, including:

These statement credits can cover all sorts of fees like in-flight meals, lounge passes and checked baggage fees — but if you want priority boarding you’ll have to choose a co-branded airline credit card.

Have you ever used your credit card’s perks to outsmart basic economy restrictions? If so, which card do you regularly use? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

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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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Looks like, if you book your flight using “Chase unlimited” points, for instance, you won’t get a free bag or pick your seat, even though I paid a small amount of the flight with my United Mileage Plus Explorer card…did I mess a trick somewhere?

Amex Gold Skymiles card with Delta. Buy Basic Economy ticket on Delta site for purchase and flight miles. Free checked bag and priority boarding. Wait for the sweet spot at gate during seat shuffle and be authentically friendly with gate staff, asking about maybe a better seat, more legroom, etc. They almost always come through. On my last two domestic flights I was moved to First and Comfort+ for the cost of a
Basic ticket and a smile. And Delta’s Basic includes a carry-on bag, unlike greedy United, so no worries there either. Delta has really stepped up their quality and customer attention and I’m sold on their loyalty perks. I also just got 70,000 bonus miles for opening an Amex Skymiles business card!

Congrats on the credit card approval!

I’m also a pretty big fan of Delta. I was pretty impressed when a flight of mine was delayed – they did a wonderful job keeping everyone posted on the status.

PenFed Pathfinder.