Avoid 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.
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 United.com
When booking flights through United.com, United clearly shows basic economy and regular economy prices side by side:
And if you then select Basic Economy, United warns you that you’re about to enter a world of hurt, and makes you confirm:
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:
And then some will let you buy up to regular economy on the next screen. Here’s Expedia again:
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:
- Priority boarding
- Full size carry-on permitted
- 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.
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.
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?
Yes you should get a free carry on and free checked bag via the Explorer card. I don’t think you will have an option to pay for seat selection.
[…] 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)
Thanks for this! The ability to avoid Basic Economy (and the details regarding it) have changed tremendously since I published this. This is a great reminder to re-do the analysis.
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!
Unfortunately United is one of the few in which you must pay for the flight with your United card in order to get free checked bags. See this page for details: https://frequentmiler.com/free-checked-bags-via-credit-card-complete-guide/
[…] 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.
For United flights?
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.
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?
Sample case…Gold Status
MCO –> ORD: Basic Economy $110, Economy $130…
Distance: 1012 miles
Light travel…no luggage to check in…
In that case it just depends on how much you value the ability to select your seat and have a chance of an upgrade. Personally I’d pay the extra $20 to avoid getting stuck in a middle seat near the rear bathroom
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!
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!
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 United.com 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.
That’s very strange that Chase booked Basic Economy! I haven’t seen that happen.
I don’t know how soon you’ll see it as ticketed.
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.
Was it a Basic Economy ticket? If so, that’s a nice loophole you found.
Yes it was a basic economy ticket!
Wow! Can you tell me more? Were you able to check-in online without checking bags? Did you get your assigned seat before or after check-in?
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!
How does one add the MileagePlus cc number to a reservation, without using that cc to pay for the airfare?
Add your MileagePlus frequent flyer number to the reservation, not your credit card #
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.
It’s only a matter of time before they make all award bookings, partner or not, default to Basic Economy.
[…] UPDATE: With United Airlines, it’s pretty easy to avoid Basic Economy with many pay with points options. For full details, see: How to avoid United Basic Economy. […]
What about using krisflyer to book a United coach seat? What happens there? Thanks.
If you use KrisFlyer miles (or any partner miles), you’ll avoid Basic Economy.
What about when booking with points at united.com? Does it default to basic economy?
Also, I’m interested as well: can we use the downgraded no annual fee mileage plus card to get the above mentioned card benefits?
Fortunately, when you book with miles you won’t get Basic Economy.
> United Basic Economy is somewhat avoidable as a United cardholder
Would you get the same benefit using the “AF-free MileagePlus Card”?
From their FAQ:
Qualifying cards are: MileagePlus Explorer Card, MileagePlus Explorer Business Card, MileagePlus Club Card, MileagePlus Club Business Card, Presidential PlusSM Card, Presidential Plus Business Card, MileagePlus Awards Card, Ixe United Universe Card, and Ixe United Card.
Thanks Greg, I missed that in the FAQ.
See you in AA or Ypsi next month!
Sorry this still did not clarify it for me – part of the issue is what is the real name of the no-annual fee card? Is it just “MileagePlus Card” or “MileagePlus Awards Card”?
Thanks in advance.
I believe that the no-fee United card is called “MileagePlus Awards Card”. And since that’s on the list, yes you would get the same benefit.
That’s great. Many thanks for clarifying
P.S. This was a very useful post.
Greg, I think you might be mistaken about the MileagePlus and the MileagePlus Awards cards being the same thing.
The no-fee MileagePlus card is called just that, and it earns 0.5 miles per dollar spent. My partner has this card. There is no mention of it anywhere on Chase’s or United’s site, so it’s hard to know what benefits, beyond the 0.5 points, that it might have. I don’t think it has ever been available for application, only downgrade.
I believe it gets the 25% bonus when using the MPX app, and I have read conflicting reports as to whether it provides expanded award space. It definitely doesn’t provide a baggage or boarding benefit, so I’m guessing it doesn’t offer a carryon in BE, either.
The MileagePlus Awards card appears to be a discontinued card that is similar, but slightly inferior, to the Explorer:
@Ivan X — if your partner has the card, you should be able to confirm whether or not it gives them access to expanded award availability just by logging into their MileagePlus account and searching for United Award tickets on a few routes. You’ll see some flight results say “Available to you exclusively as a Chase MileagePlus credit card holder” or something to that effect (I see something to that effect as a MileagePlus Explorer credit card holder).
According to this post from DoC (http://www.doctorofcredit.com/chase-united-no-annual-fee-card-review/) this card gets no benefits at all- no preferred award space and no free checked bag.
Can you confirm what the no-fee card gets us access to?
Good point. The FAQ explicitly says that that card lets you bring a full size bag on board. I’m not familiar with the card’s other perks (if any). If it doesn’t allow a free bag, then you won’t get one with Basic Economy either.
The good news is that you will “maintain your boarding priority”. So, even if that card doesn’t offer priority boarding, I believe that it will ensure that you get to board ahead of the basic economy group.
Would booking a partner airline like Lufthansa avoid Basic Economy?
It depends. Lufthansa has its own thing that’s similar to Basic Economy. If flying Lufthansa, go through the steps of booking through the Lufthansa website to see what restrictions the flight has. If you want to complete the booking elsewhere, you should be able to match up the type of coach ticket by the price shown in each interface.