Thanks To Expedia, Most Customers Don’t Even Know What A Horrible Value United Basic Economy Is

The cheapest tickets on United are a worse value than similar fares on Delta and Southwest (especially) but even American too. Right now most passengers aren’t well-informed and disproportionately book through sites like Expedia – and as a result don’t know that they’re getting less value, because these sites don’t tell them. Online booking sites don’t serve the people who are ostensibly their customers.

American Airlines made basic economy almost no different from regular economy. You even receive elite benefits on a basic economy ticket.

  • Starting next year you won’t earn credit towards status on basic economy fares
  • If you want an advance seat assignment you’ll need to pay for it, but that’s not much different than on a regular economy fare if you don’t have status (where not many decet seats are open to you for free)
  • Tickets aren’t changeable, but right now all tickets even basic economy ones can be changed free due to Covid waivers.

United Airlines in contrast won’t even let you bring a full sized carry on bag onto their planes if you’re on a basic economy ticket. That’s a restriction that American did away with and Delta never imposed. United went so far as to keep basic economy passengers who aren’t checking a bag from using their mobile app to check in. So it’s a huge extra hassle at the airport to be a basic economy flyer. (United wanted an in-person check to see that the person didn’t have a carry on before they got to the gate.)

Right now there are very few business travelers. Passengers skew younger and infrequent. They’re not brand loyal. They buy on schedule and price. And they’re probably booking through an online travel agency site. As a result most people flying don’t realize that United is delivering less value to them than competitors.

To be sure, click through a United itinerary and basic economy fare details will show you that you don’t get a carry on. But there’s nothing in bold, no advice or guidance, saying ‘buy a ticket on American, Delta, or Southwest instead‘ and ‘hey it’s the same price and better value!’

The problem of course is that people searching airfare on Expedia aren’t customers, they’re the product Expedia sells to airlines. Online Travel Agency sites could easily guide people to the best trips for them – which, unless United is the only non-stop or cheapest by a lot, isn’t United. But online booking sites don’t serve their customers well. Clearly consumers would benefit from disruption in online travel booking, yet the government has been investigating Google‘s practices that benefit consumers and take business away from online sites that harm consumers. What a strange world.

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, 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. Indeed. Their loss is my gain. Just like when I see some fool paying with cash at the store when they could have been getting 4X points.

  2. @Alan Or maybe that customer just doesn’t want to be tracked that day. Anonymity has a value.

  3. A little surprised AA and DAL wouldn’t complain to Expedia.

    Or maybe they have their own secrets to hide and believe that less information serves all of their interests in the long run.

  4. “To be sure, click through a United itinerary and basic economy fare details will show you that you don’t get a carry on. But there’s nothing in bold, no advice or guidance…”

    You deserve every bit of hassle, inconvenience, and fee you run into if you book with someone like Expedia. You made it clear you want bottom dollar price and you will get the corresponding bottom dollar service. We don’t need more laws because people click “OK” without reading the fine print. [I know you’re not advocating a law to solve this problem but that tends to be the knee-jerk response to any “market failure” like this]

  5. I’m totally fine with United’s Basic Economy setup; in fact, I think it’s great that it helps keep carry-ons limited. And the check-in gatekeeping helps streamline things at the gate and boarding. Well done, United.

  6. It’s kinda like taking advice from bloggers on which credit cards & SUBs to go after…

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