United Basic Economy is the least expensive ticket class available on their flights. This ticket type allows you to bring a personal item (small bag) and does not include advance seat selection. If you want to sit with family and friends, you must purchase a higher-fare class. Seat assignments are made at the airport and tend to be in the back of the airplane. They also may be middle seats. Basic Economy tickets are non-refundable. However, if you are a MileagePlus Premier member or you have a companion traveling on the same reservation and are the primary cardholder of a qualifying United MileagePlus credit card, you will maintain your boarding priority and have the option to bring a full-sized carry-on bag on board.
For the rest of us, passengers in Basic Economy will board last and be seated on the aisle or window, depending on availability. They will not have access to United’s app, online check-in, or priority boarding. They will be required to pay for an additional checked bag or gate check fee, if needed.
Despite the restrictions, United’s Basic Economy ticket does include food and in-flight entertainment. In addition, passengers can upgrade to Economy Plus for a small fee, which will give them the same benefits as standard United Economy fares.
United Economy and Basic Economy Differences
If you want to fly United and skip the frills of standard economy, you can find basic fares for most routes on their network. However, the price difference can be substantial. Often times it’s at least $50 more for the same flight. And since United also charges for things like checking bags and choosing seats, you’ll end up paying more than if you book in standard economy.
Most basic fares are not eligible for seat selection or economy benefits. That means you’ll board last and may have less overhead bin space to store your bag. It’s also important to note that basic fares are not changeable or eligible for refunds. In some cases, you can add economy benefits to a basic fare if it is a bulk fare or an award ticket.
It’s also worth noting that United only allows one personal item on most basic economy flights. This could be a small backpack, purse, or a laptop. And while they’re generally pretty good about allowing these items, I’ve seen plenty of cases where gate agents aren’t so accommodating. One of the most famous was when a United employee refused to let a passenger bring her breast pump on board. I think United should re-think their rules on this because it’s ridiculous.