How to avoid United Basic Economy


avoid United Basic EconomyAvoid United Basic Economy

In the time since I published “How to avoid basic economy when paying with points,” United rolled out their Basic Economy product to virtually all domestic routes.  And, it turns out that United Basic Economy is the worst.  They offer no advanced seat assignments, no ability to upgrade, no same day changes or refunds, no overhead carry-ons, and no elite qualifying earnings. And, just to really make your life miserable, if you don’t pay online to check your bag, then you can’t check in at all until you get to the airport.  Since Basic Economy passengers do not get advanced seat assignments, this means that you’re virtually guaranteed the worst middle seat on the plane.

avoid United Basic Economy

This post highlights a number of ways to avoid United Basic Economy.

Easy to avoid United Basic Economy with certain points

Here’s how to avoid Basic Economy with popular pay-with-points programs:

  • Amex Travel no longer shows Basic Economy as an option when searching online.
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards now offers a filter to remove Basic Economy from your search results
  • Citi ThankYou Rewards does not offer a way to avoid Basic Economy online. It is necessary to call to avoid Basic Economy.
  • US Bank does not offer a way to avoid Basic Economy online. It is necessary to call to avoid Basic Economy.
  • Merrill Lynch: Unfortunately, according to a reader named Neal, there seems to be no way to avoid United Basic Economy when using Merrill Lynch card points.  He tried online and via phone.
  • Visa Infinite Discount Air Benefit: A few Visa Infinite credit cards come with the Discount Air Benefit ($100 off domestic round-trip flights booked for 2+).  I tested the CNB version and found they they no longer offer Basic Economy online, so it’s easy to avoid.

For up-to-date details about avoiding Basic Economy with these programs, please see: How to avoid basic economy when paying with points.

Easy to avoid United Basic Economy at

When booking flights through, United clearly shows basic economy and regular economy prices side by side:

a screenshot of a flight schedule

And if you then select Basic Economy, United warns you that you’re about to enter a world of hurt, and makes you confirm:

a screenshot of a screen

Easy to avoid United Basic Economy with many Online Travel Agencies

Most online travel agencies indicate Basic Economy in their search results.  Here’s Expedia, for example:

a screenshot of a computer

And then some will let you buy up to regular economy on the next screen.  Here’s Expedia again:

a screenshot of a web page

United Basic Economy is somewhat avoidable as a United cardholder

If you buy Basic Economy, United MileagePlus credit cards give you several exceptions to the Basic Economy limitations.  Exceptions granted by United credit cards include:

  1. Priority boarding
  2. Full size carry-on permitted
  3. Free checked bag for primary cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation. By indicating online that you intend to check a bag, you’ll also be able to check-in online.

For priority boarding and carry-on bags, you do not need to pay with the United credit card in order to get these benefits, you just need to have added your MileagePlus frequent flyer number to the reservation.  But, to get a free checked bag, you must pay for the flight with your United MileagePlus credit card.

a close up of a card a close up of black text a text on a white background

United Basic Economy is somewhat avoidable as a United Premier Elite

MileagePlus Premier members and Star Alliance Gold members are granted the following exceptions:


  • Priority boarding based on your status
  • Full size carry-on permitted
  • Free checked bag(s). Number of bags allowed depends upon your status level (found here).  By indicating online that you intend to check a bag, you’ll also be able to check-in online.

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When booking United Basic Economy from Chase portal, will I be able to get carry-on if pay using the Explorer card? Also, will I be able to pay for seat selection during the check out process?

[…] my guide “How to avoid basic economy when paying with points“.  Thanks to reader escot, I had learned that Chase now lets you filter out Basic Economy online when paying with points for […]


Hi Greg, Apologies if you’re updated this in another post, but this statement is no longer accurate, regarding Chase UR:

“I found that each of the following programs automatically find United regular economy rather than Basic Economy.”

With Chase UR, the flight search now DOES default to the Basic Economy fares — though there seems to be a few hour delay in posting new fares.

At first, I wasn’t even finding the regular economy fares…. But then I tried the “exclude basic economy” fares filter…. and le voila! — Once I did that, then the regular economy fares appeared. (and the corresponding CUR point requirements)

Relieved to know this option is really available. Just dreaded the thought of splitting up the family on last minute holiday travel. (that plus the luggage)


Very happy to be of service, Greg. Just read your new post on this. Thanks for verifying and expanding upon what I was noticing — and helping all of us in this space benefit from the improvements. 🙂

Chase UR remains my favorite “travel currency.” Have a few other suggestions/hopes for improving their travel interface.


So i just booked a BE ticket but paid using a different credit card. I have my mileague plus explorer card information linked to my united account. Will I be able to check my bag for free? Or should I cancel and rebook using my Explorer credit card? I just booked so I have 24 hours to cancel and rebook. Thanks!

[…] travelers sometimes can only guess what they are getting. Frequent Miler’s excellent guide, How to avoid United Basic Economy, shows the problem facing the […]


US Bank Flex perks awards now offering Basic Economy.

Greg N

I am trying to book a United flight around Thanksgiving and Flexperks is ONLY showing me basic economy, even though on United’s website they aren’t showing basic economy at all for the flights I want.

Greg N

I called in and they were able to book it into the regular economy fare, and no online booking fee. But, it took a half hour of my time, which was annoying.


When do you recommend flying basic economy?
Any recommendation?
Sample case…Gold Status
MCO –> ORD: Basic Economy $110, Economy $130…
Distance: 1012 miles

Light travel…no luggage to check in…



I guess it wasn’t clear when I booked BE because I never imagined you couldn’t take your purse, a small backpack and laptop case. I couldn’t check in online and thought it was a website error (it wasn’t). After waiting in line at check-in, they made me pay to check my small backpack. They wouldn’t even let me PAY to carry it on. My BE money was no good to them! Of course there was no way I was checking my unpadded laptop case so they forced me to awkwardly and forcefully shove it into my purse in front of everyone at LAX United security checkpoint. It split the seams of my purse but I had no choice! What was I supposed to do?? I’m sure they want you to be so frustrated you never purchase that fare in the future. Wrong! I’ll never fly United again after that public humiliation. It’s not something you forget!

William S

You had THREE personal items? And they told you at booking you can only have ONE? And now you blame them? Shame on you!


Oh please! It was not clear at booking at all. Shame on United for tricking people. I’m not flying them again. Southwest only!

Mark Grant

Regarding the “Chase MileagePlus Card”:
i have had it since 2005, it was not a downgrade, rather that is what they had at that time as a no fee card.
0.5 miles per $ but no AF, plus it DOES give you the added award space, so no reason to drop it.

[…] How to avoid United Basic Economy. […]

[…] like United is going big with Basic Economy, sad! How to avoid it. And see how it has expanded since its introduction. Sadly, it is here to stay I am […]


I’ve been checking and rechecking prices of a certain flight, and just today decided to book through the Chase portal. The price was much cheaper than previously, so it looks like they opened up more seats in a lower fare bucket ($235 vs $380).

BUT when I clicked “select” it gave me the United Basic Economy warning! The details tab confirmed it was an N fare. I imagine it must have been a bulk ticket release, because still showed 2 Q fares available at $250, but I couldn’t select them. Online check it wasn’t worth it for me to call and book through Chase over the phone, since I have the MPE.

Question: when do portal bookings show up as “ticketed?” United says the reservation is on hold til midnight.


I recently booked using the Merrill Lynch points portal from LA to DFW and was not initially able to choose my seats, but after I booked I used the United phone app and was able to reserve window seats.


Yes it was a basic economy ticket!


The flight is coming up this weekend so I’m not able to check in yet. I’m only planning on bringing a backpack so I don’t know about checking bags. I got my assigned seat using the United app a few days after booking my ticket. Hope this helps!

Joe Q

How does one add the MileagePlus cc number to a reservation, without using that cc to pay for the airfare?


A better way is to avoid United economy and fly somebody else. They are clearly telling me they don’t want my business and they won’t get it.