Oops: Delta Offering Free Checked Bags for Upgrading From Basic Economy

Delta was the first major carrier with ‘basic economy’ fares. Originally geared towards offering a similar product as low cost carriers when Delta was matching price, it turned into a fare increase across most markets and will even be going international.

Delta’s Basic Economy fares are more generous than American’s and United’s (both developed under the same President at each airline) which restrict passengers from bringing on a full-sized carry on bag. Delta allows both a standard rollaboard and a personal item for passengers on these fares.

If there’s one thing I didn’t think they could ever be criticized for it’s how they make customers aware of the restrictions on their own website. That’s because they want customers to ‘buy up’ so they make it really obvious what the restrictions are. It’s less clear when buying travel on online travel agency sites, but that’s another matter.

Still two years ago Delta was called out for ‘hate selling’ making customers feel bad for buying the cheapest tickets in their effort to generate additional revenue. That seemed silly to me: the same people would have been critical of Delta if they weren’t make the restrictions abundantly clear.

But if there’s one thing we know about Basic Economy it’s that they’re restrictive: you don’t get advance seat assignments, the tickets aren’t changeable, and elites can’t upgrade.

Regular economy fares of course don’t include a checked bag, unless you’re flying Southwest. American was the first down this road 9 years ago and pretty much everyone else has followed. Except — in what no doubt is a glitch — Delta?

When searching New York LaGuardia – Chicago one way I get the standard matrix offering different fare types — basic economy, less restrictive economy, extra legroom, and first class.

Choosing basic economy you get an are you really 100% sure you want to do this? For just $20 more you get a seat and more. They even highlight the area where their basic economy fares are distinct from United’s and American’s. Good for them.

Turn that down and you get an even better buy up offer! Delta is offering people who turn down the buy up to regular economy a free checked bag if they buy up, at the same $20 increased price (which is less than they charge for a checked bag).

The idea of offering a better deal to customers who turn you down the first time makes sense, although you don’t want to do it all the time or else customers game you, they turn down the first offer knowing they’ll always get the second better one.

However in this case I’m fairly certain Delta is just making a mistake here. They don’t mean to bundle a free checked bag with regular economy. If they did I think they’d make the (really good) offer even more apparent. It’s probably just an issue with copy on the website.

And if my hunch is right that this is a mistake, some customers are being offered a free checked bag who will buy up and then not receive a checked bag free when they get to the airport. I smell some DOT complaints in Delta’s future.

(HT: Ami L.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is actually a good idea for Delta. Delta wants the extra revenue. Roughly 30%more, guaranteed, is good. And if the customer has the airline credit card, Delta would not see that 30%.
    If the customer doesn’t check a bag, there is no 30%.
    But if the competition is $65 plus bags, then Delta will probably, at worst, sell the $63 ticket.

  2. How are the carriers on basic economy dealing with small children? Mom is in 5C, Dad is 11B and 5-year-old is in 23A? That’s an absolutely horrible idea. Not just for the family, but for everyone else on the plane.

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