United Now Awards Elite Miles On Basic Economy Tickets

Filed Under: MileagePlus, Reward Programs

It sure is nice to see US airlines backtrack a bit when it comes to basic economy. While Delta has been selling basic economy tickets for years, both American and United only began selling them in early 2017.

While Delta only had mild restrictions in place for these tickets, both American and United decided to be really punitive with these fares, in hopes of getting people to pay to avoid them. They thought it would be the next billion dollar idea, though unfortunately for them, that hasn’t materialized. Instead they increasingly found customers switching travel to their competitors.

Both American and United eliminated full size carry-ons when booking basic economy tickets, though over the summer American backtracked, and brought back carry-ons for passengers booked on these kinds of tickets.

United has stuck to their guns, and continues to not allow carry-on bags when booking basic economy.

However, the airline has announced one way in which they’re backtracking on basic economy.

As of today (December 11, 2018), United basic economy tickets will earn elite qualifying miles and elite qualifying segments. Specifically, you’ll earn 50% elite qualifying miles and 0.5 elite qualifying segments per basic economy segment, meaning earning rates are half of what they’d be in regular economy. Furthermore, the price of the ticket will fully count towards your elite qualifying dollar requirement.

Previously United basic economy tickets earned redeemable miles, but didn’t in any way count towards status.

Obviously what United is doing here is better than nothing. It’s nice to at least get some elite credit for these types of tickets, though earning at half the usual rate will still be a deterrent for a lot of people to book these tickets.

With these changes, United basic economy fares come with the following restrictions:

  • No complimentary upgrades or complimentary seat assignments, though as of earlier this year you can pay to assign a seat when booking a basic economy ticket
  • On domestic flights, those on basic economy fares can only carry-on a personal item, and not a full size carry-on, unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member, Star Alliance Gold member, or have a co-branded United credit card
  • No flight changes or refunds
  • You board with the last group, unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member, Star Alliance Gold member, or have a co-branded United credit card

Bottom line

It’s interesting to see United backtrack a little bit on basic economy. As you can see, United is trying to make basic economy a bit more appealing to elite members. Elite members already get a carry-on and priority boarding with basic economy, so the major restrictions are the lack of flight changes and upgrades, and now earning 50% elite miles.

I imagine United is making this change because they noticed similar booking patterns to American (presumably they found people going elsewhere). I’m curious to see what basic economy changes we see from United next.

What do you make of United now awarding partial elite credit on basic economy fares?

  1. Interested to see if that means that people flying BE but crediting miles to other Star Alliance programs will now receive miles too? As of right now, almost all other *A programs offer 0% miles for these tickets.

  2. @Lucky

    Off topic but did you see the problems with Avianca Brazil? They just asked for bankruptcy protection.

  3. I’d guess part of this is also to align the system with trans-Atlantic basic economy where they are offering 50% PQM/PQS.

  4. If you’re really that worried about retaining your premier status, would you ever consider BE fares? The couple times I’ve looked the price difference was $15 – $100. For that, why not always get the regular Y fare?

    Condolences to the fool who makes United Silver with 50% BE fares šŸ˜‰

  5. Gee, what a “nice” thing to “bring back.”
    Too bad I’ve already taken ALL of my business to their competitors. And have no intention of returning to this kinder, gentler, 50% sensible United.

  6. I guess they all decide what tactic to take to differentiate themselves to see what pulls the basic economy customer over. If you are just going for a short visit, maybe it is cheaper to just buy clothes on arrival. Just bought tickets on Norwegian for my daughter to go LAX to BCN and once you added the seat and the luggage, you would spend more than the step up on economy classes. Then you get the meal on top of that. Seemed a no brainer, so I got her the step up.

  7. It makes sense. Lots of people I know have to fly cheapest fare for work, including BE, and on a lot of common business routes out of New York (e.g., Boston, DC), the prices are the same across all carriers — but United’s fares earned no status miles. So who would ever fly them? The surprise is that it took United this long to break.

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