Out of the three major U.S. airlines, United may have the most restrictive basic economy ticket. This is even after improving their basic economy fares late last year. Previously, United basic economy did not accrue any elite qualifying anythings. If you had any hope of desire for United status, you would avoid it like the plague.

But now United does offer half the PQMs and PQSs à la American. What they still don’t offer as part of their basic economy is a carry-on bag. Both American and Delta do. This easily makes United basic economy the most restrictive of the “Big 3”. Here is what you don’t get with United basic economy on domestic flights:

  • Carry-on bag
  • Seat selection
  • Ability to make changes or cancel
  • Any boarding group other than last

Why anyone would book one of their basic economy fares (especially since I find they aren’t terribly competitive with them) is beyond me. Unless you really just need to get you and a backpack from point A to point B.

But there is one way these fares actually aren’t too bad.

United Basic Economy – Less Awful with Elite Status

United Premier members do receive a number of benefits when they book basic economy fares, making it a less terrible experience overall. Rather than be restricted to just a personal item that must be placed under the seat, Premier members receive a standard carry-on and a checked bag. They also board in an earlier group.

You’re still stuck with the inability to change or cancel the ticket. That comes with the basic economy territory. Likewise, you’ll be stuck without a seat assignment until check-in. But simply the ability to bring a carry-on makes the fare just like the other carrier’s basic economy tickets.

What United Premier members do not receive:

  • Complimentary Economy Plus seating
  • Paid upgrades
  • Mileage upgrades
  • Complimentary Premier Upgrades
  • Regional Premier Upgrades
  • Global Premier Upgrades

In short: no upgrades for you!

But I really don’t care. I was totally fine booking a short one-way hop in basic economy to save myself the $40 difference. It’s a 90-minute hop in a CRJ-200. All the seats are bad. Since I am still a United Premier Silver member, I’m able to dodge the lack-of-baggage bullet.


All that to say, if I wasn’t still running out my year and a half of silver elite status (thank you, Marriott status challenge), I don’t think I’d be booking this ticket. I can deal with the lack of seat selection flying solo. But the lack of even a carry-on really hurts and makes United basic economy completely unpalatable.