They say that Basic Economy fares are a reaction to low-cost carriers. (Low-cost carriers - and their baggage policies - respectfully disagree.) But no matter the reason they were created, Basic Economy Fares are here.

There comes a time in every travel manager’s life when he or she must decide:

Do I prepare my travelers by educating them about what makes these fares different?

Or do I set up a system to catch the fares that are most likely to cause them trouble?

1: Consider the Benefit (or Cost) of these Fares.

Basic Economy fares are cheaper than other fare classes. By how much? That varies on market/time/load factors (just like all airline pricing).

The real cost to consider is the one you have more knowledge about: your travelers’ happiness and habits.

Do your travelers often change their flights after booking? Basic Economy does not allow you to change your flights, either before or on the day of travel. No flight changes allowed.

Do your travelers take carry-on luggage? AA and UA don’t allow Basic Economy passengers to use the overhead bins at all. Delta does, but all three carriers make Basic Economy passengers board last, so your likelihood of scoring bin space is limited. Delta will allow you to check your bag at no charge, but AA and UA will charge you the standard checked bag fee if your luggage won’t fit under the seat. The notable exception: status. For AA and UA, if you have elite status or booked with the airline’s rewards credit card, you may get to bring your carry-on luggage, after all.

Even if you’re okay with running the risk of ancillary luggage fees, and with losing the entire cost of the flight (no exceptions) if the traveler’s plans change, you should factor in the headache of jumping these hurdles (for the traveler) and managing these variables (for the travel manager.)

2: Compare the Fares (and Advise Your Travelers)

You can find a handful of news sites that have published a comparison of Basic Economy fares across the Big Three. (Rule of thumb: not all Basic Economy Fares are made equal.) There are a few loopholes you can take advantage of with the right status, but many travelers won’t be predisposed toward reading the fine print.

We made a first pass at it, below. Feel free to share the image with your travelers. But remember – airline fare rules are always subject to change!

The Basics of Basic Economy

3: Adjust Your Travelers’ Options

Sure, they’re savvy travelers. But they are busy, and they don’t have time to read your updates or exhortations, and certainly not the fine print. So you may have to do the hard work for them.

World Travel, Inc.’s Business Solutions team is exploring, well, solutions, that will help notify the traveler of when they’re about to book a Basic Economy fare. Think of it as an automated angel-on-the-shoulder. “Are you SURE you want to book the fare that can’t be changed and won’t let you bring a bag?”

Due to contractual obligations between the GDSs and the airlines, it’s not really possible to just remove all the Basic Economy fares from view. However, there are ways to keep tabs on those ill-advised Basic Economy bookings.

For now though? Tell your road warriors and your travel novices alike: Read the fine print.


*3/22 Update

Although World Travel, Inc. cannot block Basic Economy fares at the GDS level, we have come up with a few solutions to help educate travelers before they book.

Agent Bookings

When booking a Basic Economy fare, agents receive a pop-up message advising them that the fare has restrictions. They can then advise the traveler.

Agents can use pricing format overrides to avoid Basic Economy fares altogether.

WorldQC™ now has a routine to identify when Delta Basic Economy fares are booked, and can trigger them back to an agent to be changed or booked. Our Business Solutions team is building identical routines for United and American Basic Economy fares, as well.


Online Booking Tools

Depending on the Online Booking Tool, you may have various options. Concur has a "show-but-hide" option, which allows a traveler to see the fare, but not to select it. If the Concur account is on Travelport Apollo, a setting in the configuration allows the customer to inhibit Basic Economy fares from search results. Contact your Account Manager if you're interested in enacting this option.

For DEEM users on Sabre, there are rules that can block these fares. For DEEM users on Travelport Apollo, fare blocking can be enabled, but you'll need to submit a ticket. Contact your Account Manager if you're interested in enacting this option.

Image via Unsplash by Chris Brignola
Chesley Turner

Written by Chesley Turner