United Caves – Basic Economy Fares Now Qualify For Elite Credits

a large airplane parked at an airport

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Let’s be honest and open about this – Basic Economy fares are a rip-off.

Airlines would love for us all to blindly believe that Basic Economy fares are just super-cheap, no-frills fares brought in to compete with the low-cost carriers…but they’re nothing of the sort.

Basic Economy fares are no cheaper than the cheapest fares that were around before Basic Economy was even a thing – they just come with considerably fewer benefits.  Remember that the next time you read about an airline CEO telling us all how Basic Economy is great news for the budget traveler.

a row of seats in an airplane

Delta led the way with the roll out of Basic Economy fares but, to give the airline some credit, it didn’t impose some of the more draconian rules that American and United introduced when they jumped on the Basic Economy bandwagon.

  • Where Delta allowed passengers to board with their normal hand baggage allowance both American and United both restricted domestic Basic Economy fare payers to just a “personal item” that could fit underneath a seat.
  • American and United both introduced a $25 penalty fee (on top of the existing fee) for Basic Economy passengers forced to gate-check their hand baggage
  • Delta offered Basic Economy passengers a free seat choice at check-in where American and United both charged.

American and United both managed to make Delta look good while making themselves look cheap….but United wasn’t done there.

United decided to really emphasise the “Basic” in Basic Economy and decreed that its Basic Economy fare wouldn’t earn miles or toward elite qualification (Delta offers 1 of each/mile flown while American offers 0.5 of each/mile flown) and that Basic Economy fares wouldn’t count towards the minimum spend targets that are now a prerequisite for elite status.

Fast forward to today and things have changed a bit.

Delta is still sailing along nicely with its Basic Economy fares (at it has always done) but American has had to make a change.

Back in September American Airlines finally gave up on the ridiculous idea that domestic Basic Economy passengers should only be allowed to travel with a personal item and it reinstated normal hand baggage allowances for Basic Economy passengers.

This was American Airlines essentially admitting that its Basic Economy fares weren’t working….but United didn’t blink.

To this day United Airlines still only allows domestic Basic Economy passengers to board with a personal item but it hasn’t been able to resist change altogether.

Yesterday, 11 December 2018, United announced that, from 1 January 2019, Basic Economy fares will qualify has started offering elite credits for Basic Economy fares and spending on Basic Economy fares now counts towards the minimum spend criteria for elite status.

Note: I’ve seen it reported that the new elite earnings kick in right away but United’s website clearly shows the new earning starting from 1 January 2019.

a screenshot of a screenshot of a number of miles

United hasn’t gone as far as to match Delta’s Basic Economy elite earnings (that would be asking too much) but it has at least matched what American offers – Qualifying miles will be based on 50% of the mileage flown and each segment flown in Basic Economy will count as half a segment towards elite qualification.

In further good news – all Basic Economy spending (excluding taxes and fees) will count towards the minimum spend requirements.

Where there’s good news there’s also usually some bad news too (at least with United) and today that comes in the form of the Million Miler program – Basic Economy fares will continue to not count towards lifetime miles on United Airlines:

a screenshot of a social media post

I’m not sure why United is sticking with this policy but it is….perhaps it doesn’t want to do too much backtracking all at once?

Bottom Line

Just as American essentially admitted that its Basic Economy fares weren’t working when it rolled back the restrictions on hand baggage now United is doing the same.

It turns out that passengers aren’t quite as dumb as the airlines would like them to be and they’re more than capable of finding other options when they think their primary airline is screwing them over.

The biggest take-away (for me) from all this is that we’re now seeing real proof that when the 3 legacy airlines don’t stand together on something they have real issues maintaining some of their more annoying rules.

Had Delta introduced Basic Economy fares with draconian hand baggage allowances I have absolutely no doubt that all domestic Basic Economy fares would only come with a “personal item” allowance today. But Delta didn’t go down that route so American had to roll back its policy and, sooner or later, United will roll back its policy too.

Likewise, had Delta not offered full elite credits on Basic Economy fares and had American not offered at least some credit toward elite status for Basic Economy passengers there’s no way United would be changing its mind and changing course today.

Basic Economy fares may be here to stay but as long as the airlines don’t agree with one another on what benefits Basic Economy should offer we stand some chance of a seeing the worst aspects of basic Economy fares rolled back and kept away.

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