How can I tell when I’m booking the bare-bones “Basic Economy” airfares for my clients?  Do Tour Operators sell these fares on their booking engines?

In a never-ending attempt by the airlines to further complicate airfares, the “Big Three” (American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines) have recently created a new stripped-down class of service called “Basic Economy”.  This is to offer a lower price point to those folks who don’t care about where they sit or carry any luggage with them that won’t fit under the seat in front of them.  Although the details can vary by airline, Basic Economy generally restricts you as follows:

~ You can’t pre-reserve a seat assignment on the plane until the actual online check-in window has opened (usually 24 hours prior to the flight) and possibly until the airport gate.

~ You can’t use the overhead bins to store any of your carry-on luggage…only the space under the seat in front of you.

~ You will board the plane last, when the final zone is called.

Of course, this means that any families traveling together will most probably be scattered around the plane, so it is definitely not a good idea for honeymoon couples or groups with younger children.  The airline crew has no responsibility to make sure you can sit with your child if you book this fare basis.

In order to recognize whether or not you are booking “Basic Economy”, you should be familiar with the Class of Service that each airline uses to identify this fare:

AA – B class

DL – U class

UA – N class

And, delving a little bit deeper, if you have access to the entire 8-character Fare Basis Code, the 7th (next to the last) character will always be a “B” regardless of carrier…example “XEVQA0BA”.

The airlines are required to make it very obvious that you are about to purchase a Basic Economy ticket on the actual airline booking engines, but it can be tricky on OTAs and Air Consolidators…here is a great example of a consolidator’s display:

Most Tour Operators do NOT use Basic Economy fares for their “Bulk” or “Contract” airfares, but you should be careful when booking “Published” rates.  When in doubt, pick up the phone and call the Tour Operator to be sure you understand what you are booking for your clients.

In general, you should only book Basic Economy airfares for clients after you have specifically asked them if they are okay with the restrictions.  Often the difference in fare is only $15-$35 each direction, so it just may not be worth the savings.

By Lisa Fletcher