Basic Economy, Saver Fare, Blue Basic—traditionally, it didn’t matter what an airline elected to call the most economical fare class on its planes. The common denominator for most of those tickets is that they are typically the most restrictive. In addition to lacking many inclusions such as seat selection or a carry-on luggage, 24 hours postbooking (a customer service standard set by the Department of Transportation), ticket changes are often not allowed.
United Airlines, however, shook up its cancellation policy for Basic Economy fares this month. The airline is now permitting customers to cancel their Basic Economy tickets for a fee—rather than just lose all the funds.
“As part of an ongoing effort to offer more flexibility, United is making it easier for customers to change their Basic Economy tickets,” Christine Salamone, a United spokesperson told AFAR, adding that “customers can either pay to upgrade to a standard economy ticket, which will allow them to reschedule their flight and give all the benefits of a standard economy ticket, including premier benefits, free seat assignments, a free carry-on bag, and more; or if a customer doesn’t want to rebook, they can cancel their trip and receive a residual credit for their basic economy ticket.”
At the start of the pandemic, United along with most other major U.S. carriers, allowed customers to make changes sans fees to their Basic Economy tickets. But on May 1, 2021, United’s Basic Economy tickets returned to prepandemic fare rules and were unchangeable and nonrefundable.
However, back in February 2021, United introduced a standard economy buy-up option, which allows Basic Economy customers to upgrade to a standard economy ticket. That in turn allows them to reschedule their flight and receive all the benefits of a standard economy ticket, including free seat assignments, a free carry-on bag, and more. There is no change fee for standard economy (or any other changeable tickets, such as Premium Economy and business-class seats).
As of April 13, there’s even more flexibility—those who wish to cancel their Basic Economy booking altogether will receive a flight credit for the original purchase price, minus a cancellation fee. On domestic flights, that fee is $49.50 for a one-way ticket and $99 for a round-trip ticket. On international flights, one-way cancellations cost $99.50, whereas it’s $199 to cancel a round-trip fare.
Delta Air Lines and JetBlue each have similar policies, allowing their Basic Economy or Basic Blue (what JetBlue calls its lowest fare tier) passengers to cancel with a fee that ranges from $99 to $200, depending on the itinerary. Those airlines, however, don’t offer the option to buy up to standard economy.
Southwest is one of the few airlines with a long-standing policy of allowing customers to alter tickets without a change fee regardless of the fare class.
This isn’t the first time United Airlines has made a significant alteration to change fees in recent years. In August 2020, United (as well as Delta, American, and Alaska) led the charge in permanently (at least so they said) eliminating their flight change fees for main cabin fares and above.