Just six months ago United Airlines introduced a not-quite-Basic Economy fare option for transatlantic travels. Next week the company will complete the transition, formally rebranding the offering as Basic Economy. In an advisory to travel agents the company indicates that the change puts United’s offering more in line with joint venture partners Air Canada and Lufthansa Group airlines. The new fares and rules take effect on 11 December 2018.
Seat assignments and mileage earning appear to be the two main limitations of the revised basic economy offering for United across the Atlantic. Advance seat assignments must be purchased when booked in Basic Economy. Alternatively, travelers on these tickets will be assigned a seat at the airport for their journey. The fares are ineligible for any upgrades, whether to Polaris business class, Premium Plus premium economy or even the Economy Plus extra legroom seats. This applies to MileagePlus elite status members as well. For mileage earning the new rules will see credit towards elite status halved on these tickets. Other earning remains based on the fare paid and unchanged in that regard.
As with the prior iteration of these fares the new Basic Economy offering comes with a fee for the first checked bag. The tickets also disallow any changes or refunds. Unlike the domestic Basic Economy option, however, passengers on the transatlantic version are permitted a full-sized carry-on bag plus a personal item on board. United will also allow for transatlantic basic economy passengers to check in online and to board with their normal group rather than last.
When the fares first launched over the summer the inconsistency between United’s implementation and that of its partners presented some challenges for marketing and passenger experience. United was also clear at the time that “these lowest-priced fares are the first step towards a Basic Economy product on trans-Atlantic United flights.” It seems the company finally completed the necessary tech changes internally to take that next step. In this case that improved consistency also means more passengers will pay more money for the same trip. That’s hardly ideal, but also not at all surprising. After all, the entire purpose of Basic Economy offerings is to increase airline revenue without improving the product on offer.
Presumably the same technology that enables the paid advance seat reservations for Basic Economy fares will also be used to implement the “preferred” seating fees for domestic economy class United announced in August 2018 for launch in Q4. Further details on timing for that remain unclear.