When it comes to booking flights, everyone loves a good deal, and the allure of the cheapest airfare can be hard to resist – especially if you’re on a tight budget. However, the cheapest airfare isn’t always the best option for every traveler. We’ve actually received feedback from travelers who were not aware they had to pay extra to select a seat or check a bag on top of the cost of the flight. It’s often the infrequent or first time travelers who get surprised by these extremely cheap fares.

Often, these low-cost tickets come with a catch— they’re basic airfares that only cover the bare essentials, leaving you to pay extra for a range of amenities that (back in the day) used to be included. Low-cost carriers have long been known for this à la carte business model, but legacy airlines are now adopting it too. Let’s dive into what you need to know about basic airfares and why they may not be the best choice for you.

What is Basic Economy?

Basic economy tickets are essentially stripped-down fares that offer the lowest cost possible. While you are paying for a seat on the airplane, that’s often where the inclusions end. Literally – a Basic Economy ticket is often just securing a seat – any seat – on the plane. These fares are aimed at budget-conscious travelers and often involve the following limitations:

  • No Carry-On or Checked Bag Allowance: Many airlines restrict you to a personal item that fits under the seat. A carry-on in the overhead bin and checked bags can incur extra fees. Here’s a quick roundup of what you need to know about bag policies
  • No Seat Selection: Travelers may be assigned a seat at check-in or the gate, meaning you could end up separated from your travel companions.
  • Limited Change or Cancellation Options: Basic Economy tickets may have stricter rules regarding changes and cancellations. You could find yourself paying steep fees or unable to make any changes at all.
  • No Priority Boarding: Don’t expect to be one of the first on the plane. Basic Economy ticket holders often board last, leaving limited space for carry-on luggage.
  • No Upgrades or Loyalty Perks: If you’re part of a frequent flyer program, your Basic Economy ticket may not contribute to your status points, and you’re unlikely to receive upgrades.

Why Cheap Isn’t Always Best

While Basic Economy tickets offer initial savings, the lack of included amenities can end up costing you more in the long run. Here are a few scenarios where the cheapest fare may not be the best option:

  • Baggage Fees Add Up: If you travel with more than a personal item, the cost of a carry-on and checked bags can quickly surpass the price of a standard fare. In addition, some airlines charge you more if you decide to check a bag at the airport. To get the best prices you often have to pay for bags online.
  • Inconvenient Seating: Being assigned a seat can lead to discomfort and inconvenience, especially on long flights. If you prefer to sit with your travel companions/family or choose your seat, Basic Economy might not suit your needs.
  • Unexpected Fees: Be prepared for additional charges at the airport for printing boarding passes or choosing an earlier flight.
  • Limited Flexibility: Life is unpredictable, and plans change. If you need to adjust your flight, you may face high fees or may not be allowed to change your booking at all.
  • Loyalty Program Drawbacks: If you travel frequently and rely on loyalty programs, a Basic Economy ticket may not contribute to your status points or perks.

How to Make Informed Choices

Understanding the fine print of your ticket can help you make informed decisions and avoid unexpected costs. Here are some tips:

  • Read the Fare Rules: Always read the fare rules and conditions before booking. Know what is included and what is not. CheapAir.com has an easy flight booking tool that shows an apples to apples comparison of everything included in an airline ticket price. You can see the total cost as well as all inclusions and exclusions. You can even compare a few flights at a time to make sure you have all of the information. You need this intel before you buy. 
  • Calculate the Total Cost: Consider all the additional fees you may incur, such as baggage and seat selection, to see if the low base fare is truly the best deal.
  • Compare Different Fare Options: Compare Basic Economy fares with higher-priced options that include more amenities. Sometimes, paying a little more upfront can save you money and stress later.
  • Consider Your Travel Needs: Think about your travel style and preferences. Do you need to choose your seat? Will you have luggage to check? Factor these preferences into your decision.

The cheapest airfare may seem appealing at first glance, but it’s not always the best choice. By understanding what a Basic Economy ticket includes and how additional fees can add up, you can make informed decisions. In this way you can choose the fare that best suits your travel needs. So, next time you’re booking a flight, take a moment to read the fine print and consider all your options. Happy travels!

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