Delta was the first U.S. legacy airline to introduce basic economy fares, which was their attempt to compete with ultra low cost carriers like Allegiant and Spirit. For select passengers booking the lowest fares, you can’t select seats in advance, can’t make any changes to your ticket, and aren’t eligible to upgrade.
Both American and United plan on introducing basic economy fares in 2017. Typically we see American and United following Delta’s lead, though in this case United is taking it a step further than the competition when it comes to basic economy fares.
So, what makes United’s upcoming basic economy fares the most restrictive?
- You won’t receive any elite qualifying credit, meaning no elite qualifying miles, elite qualifying segments, or elite qualifying dollars
- You won’t be allowed to bring on a full sized carry-on, but rather will be limited to a personal item (there’s an exception for elite members, Star Alliance Gold members, and those with United’s co-branded credit card)
Both of those are extremely restrictive, and it’s a way for United to punish both elites and non-elites who book basic economy fares (elites will care about not getting elite qualifying miles, non-elites will care about not getting a free carry-on).
United plans to enforce the carry-on restriction by having basic economy passengers board with group five, which should make it easy for gate agents to police bags.
However, I’m sure some people have been wondering how strict gate agents will be, and figured those on basic economy fares are best off just trying to board with their bag, and worst case scenario they’ll pay what they would have otherwise paid. Not so fast, as United has a restriction in place to prevent that.
Specifically, if you book a United basic economy fare and try to carry-on a bag, you’ll not only pay the checked bag fee, but also a “convenience fee.”
For those who bring them to the gate there is a $25 service fee. Bags checked at check-in, have the standard fee. ^MM
— United Airlines (@united) December 7, 2016
So in addition to the $25 first checked bag fee you’ll pay a $25 convenience fee, for a total of $50.
What United is doing here is very similar to Spirit. They charge $35-55 if you pay for a checked or carry-on bag at the time of booking or check-in, while they charge $100 if you pay at the gate.
So while I’m not at all a fan of United eliminating free carry-on bags on basic economy fares, if they’re going to do so, being punitive about those who try to bypass the restriction is the right thing to do. Otherwise you’re just giving basic economy passengers an incentive to try their luck at bringing the bag on. Given how busy gate agents are, and how they already struggle getting flights out on-time, that seems like a recipe for disaster.
However, I wonder:
- How prominently they’ll display this convenience fee at the time of booking
- How many gate agents will actually charge the fee, given that they’re usually in a rush to get the door closed; something tells me a lot of gate agents will just be “courtesy” gate checking bags, because they’d rather not collect $25 than have a flight leave late
Are you surprised to see United add a “convenience fee” for those checking a bag at the gate? Is it the right move?
(Tip of the hat to Wandering Aramean)