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Looking For Cheap Plane Tickets?

Are you looking for cheap plane tickets? Recently, American Airlines and United Airlines joined Delta Airlines to offer a new option for budget travelers --  “basic economy” tickets.

Just the name of those tickets, “basic economy,” may sound like music to the ears of budget travelers everywhere. United announced the fare category for travelers in February; American in January. Delta began offering basic economy tickets a few years ago.

But, like just about anything, those tickets come with more than a few strings attached and, in reality, may not be cheaper than a traditional economy class plane ticket.

Let’s break down the “deals” on cheap plane tickets.

United Airlines

According to United’s website, customers with basic economy reservations are still seated in the main cabin. Checked baggage policies remain the same. You’ll have to pay $25 for one checked bag, for instance. And you’ll still get the free drink and snack that’s offered to everybody else.

Here’s the rub: Seat assignments are assigned before boarding. So, families traveling together may not be able to sit together. What’s more, for most travelers, full-size carry-on bags will not be allowed on board. You’ll only be able to stow a small bag or purse under the seat in front of you. If you arrive at the gate with a bag, you’ll be required to check it for that $25 fee.

American Airlines

Just like on board United, American’s basic economy ticket holders sit in the main cabin and enjoy the drinks and snacks that all other travelers get. Seat assignments are made when you check in and, according to American’s website, the airline will make efforts to seat children and parents together when possible.

Basic economy travelers, however, are limited in what they can bring on board. Only personal carry-on items that fit under the seat are allowed. Most basic economy customers who attempt to roll their bag onto the flight will have to pay the $25 checked baggage fee plus a $25 gate service charge per bag.

Delta Airlines

Like on board United and American, Delta’s basic economy ticket holders get those free drinks and snacks, but there are restrictions. Travelers don’t get a seat assignment until after check-in or at the gate, which means that those traveling together, including families, may not be able to sit together, according to Delta’s website. Delta, unlike the other carriers, does allow basic economy passengers to bring on board a carry-on bag to stow.

For all three airlines, the basic economy tickets are available on only select routes. They also may not save you much money. Consider these numbers:

  • compared ticket costs aboard Delta and found that basic economy tickets were just $15 to $30 cheaper than traditional economy tickets.
  • A recent search on American for a flight from Charlotte to Orlando found that basic economy tickets were about $40 cheaper.
  • On United, a recent search for flights from Minneapolis to Chicago netted the basic economy traveler only $15 in savings.

While it never hurts to save a little money, remember, you won’t be able to carry on more than a purse or backpack on either of those United or American flights. So, that small suitcase that you would have rolled onboard and stowed overhead when traveling with a traditional economy ticket, will now cost you $25 to check.

So what’s a budget traveler to do? Lots of research. If you’re shopping around for flights, don’t immediately expect that the basic economy option is best -- especially if you are traveling with young children in tow.

Compare prices for tickets on the major carriers, along with low-cost airlines such as Frontier and Spirit. Read the fine print. Then, make your decision.

Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit committed to empowering and inspiring consumers nationwide to make wise financial decisions and live debt free. Speak with a certified counselor for a free debt analysis today



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