Malaysia Airlines Introduces Hand Baggage Only Economy Class Fares

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Malaysia Airlines has announced that it has introduced “enhanced Economy fare options, putting customers’ needs as priority” which, in normal everyday language, means that it has introduced “hand baggage only” Economy Class fares which offer customers very little in return for no price decrease at all. Regardless of how Malaysia Airlines tries to spin this news, this isn’t good for passengers.

These new hand baggage only fares are called “Lite” fares and are being sold on almost all of Malaysia Airline’s routes. Confusingly, the airline’s regular Economy Class fares are called “Basic” which is the term a number of other airlines (especially in the US) use for their version of hand baggage only fares. Flyers will have to be careful what fare they’re booking the next time one of their trips involves a booking with Malaysia Airlines and oneworld elites should be particularly careful as their status will not protect them from all the downgrades that come with Lite Economy Class fares.

Malaysia Airlines Hand Baggage Only Fares

Malaysia Airlines now has three types of Economy Class fares and all three offer a very different travel experience.

  • Lite (Hand baggage only)
  • Basic (Regular Economy Class)
  • Flex (Flexible Fare Economy Class)

A summary of what each fare offers can be seen in the table below:

a screenshot of a computer
Click to expand

The best way to view the new “Lite” fare is in comparison to the “Basic” fare which is what most Economy Class passengers on Malaysia Airlines have been booking up until now.

  • Lite fares cannot be upgraded
  • Lite fares do not offer a 20kg checked baggage allowance
  • Lite fares do not offer a 10% discount for children
  • Lite fares cannot be rebooked

Malaysia Airlines Group CEO Captain Izham Ismail is quoted as saying:

“With the world slowly recovering from the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as our passengers begin to travel again, Malaysia Airlines seeks to take them to the skies without the burden of worry, with a truly hassle-free experience. Putting their needs as priority, we took the time to listen and gain invaluable insight to our passengers through extensive feedback, and from there we redesigned, redefined and are proud to introduce our enhanced fare family, providing our dear customers with a comprehensive product that caters to their every need, no matter the nature of travels.”

“As the first airline in the Asia Pacific region to fully introduce flexible fare options across our network, these fares will allow greater personalization for our passengers, balancing a simple and intuitive booking experience, alongside unforgettable Malaysian Hospitality onboard and on the ground, creating a stress-free and seamless travel experience. This reaffirms our commitment to putting our passengers first, especially in these uncertain times where passengers may be apprehensive to travel. With this we hope to instill a sense of confidence and trust in them to Fly Malaysia once again.”

This is, of course, utter nonsense.

The introduction of Lite fares has nothing to do with putting passenger needs as a priority and no passenger has ever told an airline that they want to pay what they’ve always paid but get less in return…because that’s exactly what Lite fares are doing.

Airlines that introduce hand baggage only fares always try to claim that they’re being introduced to offer a lower-cost product to passengers who don’t need the extras that the regular Economy Class fare offers (this is called “unbundling”), but this is nothing short of a sham. Most of the cheapest airline fares don’t fall when hand baggage fares are introduced so passengers are often offered hand baggage only fares (Lite fares) at the same price point as the old Economy Class fares were offered…but now they’re not being given benefits like a checked baggage allowance or the ability to upgrade.

This is a stealth increase in fares disguised as an added option for travelers.

Something Else Worth Knowing

Lite fares don’t offer free seat selection but neither do the Basic Economy fares so this isn’t a downgrade in offering…but it’s pointing out that this is an area in which Malaysia Airlines loves to nickel-and-dime as many passengers as possible.

Oneworld sapphire elites (BA Silver, AAdvantage Platinum/Platinum Pro, etc…) who are used to being able to select any seat for free on most oneworld airlines when they make a booking, are excluded from booking free seats with Malaysia Airlines Lite and Basic Economy Class fares. The only elite flyers who get to choose a seat for free (on Lite or Basic fares) at the time of booking are top-tier elites (oneworld Emerald card holders)… and even these elites cannot select extra legroom seats or exit row seats for free.

I have British Airways Gold status (top-tier oneworld status) and although the Malaysia Airlines website allows me to select regular seats for free on Lite and Basic Economy fares,  this is what I see when I try to book and extra leg room seat…

a screenshot of a plane

…and this is what I see when I try to select an exit row seat:

a screenshot of a computer screen

Leaving aside the fact that I don’t understand why an extra leg room seat costs considerably more than an exit row seat (which usually has acres of leg room), the idea that top-tier elites should have to pay for any type of seat is out of step with most of the oneworld alliance. Even British Airways doesn’t stoop that low!

Bottom Line

Malaysia Airlines is now selling hand baggage only fares on almost all of its routes so, going forward,  passengers can expect to get less for their money than they have before. Personally speaking, I’ll be doing my best to avoid flying with Malaysia Airlines in Economy Class because I have no interest in being nickel-and-dimed and I strongly suggest other oneworld elites consider following suit.