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

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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:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Up to $200 annual statement credit for incidental purchases on one selected airline
  • The Business Platinum® Card from American Express: Up to $200 annual statement credit for incidental purchases on one selected airline
  • Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Up to $250 annual airline fee credit with the airline of your choice to cover incidental air travel fees (enrollment required).

The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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.

For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.

Meghan Hunter is an editor for Million Mile Secrets. She covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has also appeared in The Points Guy.

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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