The only scenario in which I would allow myself to fly United Basic Economy

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United’s Basic Economy fare has been the source of widespread criticism, and understandably so. This ‘new’ fare, which is a version of what Delta piloted back in 2012, is yet another tool for airlines to compartmentalize amenities into more categories in order to increase fares that include amenities flyers were used to not paying for at all. No, Basic Economy is not cheaper, though marketing makes it seem that way. Actually, United (and other airlines) don’t really want you to purchase Basic.  It’s all a ‘legal’ scheme to upsell you regular economy for a higher price than it was before. By attaching so many restrictions to the fare, airlines are banking on customers to select the higher -and more expensive- fare. This is the reality of today’s airline industry and there’s not much we can do about it. But the question remains, would I ever purchase a Basic Economy fare? To answer that question let’s quickly review United’s BE restrictions.

Basic Economy Restrictions at a glance

  • No seat selection, including families or groups
  • No upgrades, paid or complimentary
  • No full-size carry-on bags, only 1 personal item under seat allowed (N/A for Premier members)
  • No flight changes, except for those requested within 24 hours of purchase
  • No flight refunds, except for those requested within 24 hours of purchase
  • No Premier Qualifying Miles/Segments/Dollars (United is the only carrier that has imposed this restriction)
  • Last to board (N/A for Premier members)

Sounds pretty terrible, doesn’t it? All of these were included with a regular economy purchase just months ago. Especially frustrating to me is the second to last bullet about not earning Premier anything. United is the only one doing this, and I just can’t! Just for this one restriction I’d never purchase a BE fare. No mileage runs with Basic Economy! But just this past week I was thinking about a scenario in which I would allow myself to purchase this disgrace of a fare.


The Premier Dilemma

Unfortunately for those of us with Premier status, United does not rollover any PQM, PQS or PQD to the following year’s Premier status qualifying. For example, let’s say that by October someone has reached Premier Gold status, which requires 50k PQM or 60 PQS, and $6,000 PQD(unless waived). This Premier member has determined that it’s unrealistic that they will reach Premier Platinum status by the end of the year, which requires 50% above the Gold status qualification requirements in each category (75k PQM or 90 PQS, and $9,000 PQD). However, this person will still do some travel after reaching Gold status. Let’s assume that they end up the year at around 65k PQM, and $7,500 PQD. Anything over the qualification requirements for Gold is completely lost. Come the next calendar year, the person’ qualification is reset to 0. So in a case like this, the biggest problem with the BE fare -earning Premier qualifying anything- becomes irrelevant. If instead, like Delta, there was a rollover, then this post wouldn’t exist.


Why would I purchase a BE ticket?

So now that we’ve established a situation in which the BE wouldn’t negatively impact a Premier member, other than the lack of ‘amenities’ which are more of an inconvenience, why would I purchase a Basic Economy fare? If I’ve determined that I won’t realistically reach the next Premier level From time to time I like to purchase low fare tickets from hub to hub, to maybe check out some new lounge at a certain airport or just because I like to fly. But there’s an additional benefit that you might earn from travel in highly transited routes: e-certs. As I’ve written before, we love e-certs! Oversold flights are a form of ‘travel revenue’ if you’re able to accurately predict them. I’ve benefited multiple times from this scenario: I’m in need to purchase an expensive ticket, but before purchasing it I take my chances and purchase a cheap ticket anywhere to see if I can get a bump and with it an e-cert. The result may be that I now have an e-cert that covers the expensive ticket that I needed originally, so in essence I purchased the expensive ticket for the price of the cheap one. This however, will not work every time, so you have to determine whether you’re OK with taking the risk.

I know this was a bit long, but hopefully it gives you one alternative way to use BE.

Give me your thoughts