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How to Make the Most of Delta’s Basic Economy

Aug. 27, 2019
Loyalty Programs, Travel, Travel Credit Cards, Vacations & Trip Planning
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Does the phrase “basic economy” send a shiver down your spine? Are you confused by Delta’s basic economy offering and how it compares to the airline’s many other fare classes? We’re here to help.

In this article, we’ll explain Delta’s basic economy fares, make sure you know whether you’re buying one and show you how to avoid the worst features of these budget options without paying extra.

We also have a calculator to help you decide whether basic economy is worth it for you.

What is basic economy?

Delta features six different cabin classes, listed here in descending order of cost and comfort:

  • Delta One (international premium class).
  • Delta Premium Select.
  • First class (domestic).
  • Delta Comfort+.
  • Main cabin.
  • Basic economy.

Most flyers are concerned with the differences between the last two: main cabin and basic economy.

 Basic economyMain Cabin
Checked bags (domestic)Starting at $30 for your first bagStarting at $30 for your first bag
Overhead carry-on bagFreeFree
Seat assignmentsAt check-inBefore check-in
Qualifies for elite benefits (including upgrades)NoYes
Allows changes/cancellationsNoYes, paid
Earns milesYesYes
Boarding groupLastSecond-to-last

Note that there is no difference in baggage rules between Delta’s basic economy and main cabin. You’ll get a free overhead carry-on and can pay to check bags. Also, both fare types earn SkyMiles. These similarities makes Delta’s basic economy less punitive than that of other carriers, especially United.

Using credit card benefits to travel in basic economy

Delta offers several branded credit cards, all of which offer priority boarding except the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. If you book a basic economy fare, this can take care of the last-to-board problem, as well as the likelihood of having to gate-check your overhead carry-on when the bins fill up.

All these Delta cards (again, except the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express) offer at least one free checked bag, which can offset those fees as well. Remember that checked baggage fees apply to basic economy and main cabin fares alike.

However, none of these cards help with seat assignments, which is often the biggest problem with basic economy, especially for families.

And it’s important to note that these benefits only apply when you use the card to book the flight. Simply having the card on hand does not get you priority boarding or free bags.

Flying basic economy with elite status

Similar to most branded Delta cards, elite status with Delta includes priority boarding regardless of fare type. Platinum Medallion members all board together, whether they have main cabin or basic economy seats.

Elite status also offsets checked bag fees, which are the same for basic economy and main cabin. And most importantly for many Delta elites, basic economy fares do not offer complimentary or paid upgrades. Depending on your level of status and the likelihood of receiving a bump to the front of the plane, it might be worth springing for the full main cabin economy fare.

Is basic economy worth it? How much am I really paying?

Use the calculator below to determine the total cost of your ticket, and compare the tradeoffs of basic economy to main cabin.

Note: This calculator only applies to domestic flights. International baggage rules on Delta are more complex.

Final thoughts

The phrase “basic economy” has nasty connotations for many, but Delta’s version of these low-budget fares is better than some competitors (namely United). You won’t get to choose your seat assignment, board early, get an upgrade or change/cancel your ticket after purchase, but you still get a free overhead bag.

Delta-branded credit cards and elite status can help you board early, which avoids the all-but-inevitable hassle of gate-checking your carry-on. But you’ll still be left without an assigned seat until check-in, which can be a real deal-breaker for many travelers.

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