Delta Air Lines began offering Basic Economy awards at lower prices. While Basic Economy can be a problem for some travelers, I welcome the move.
Now Issuing Basic Economy Awards
Award travel in the US has changed drastically over the last five years. As ten airlines became ten airlines became five the industry has become more dynamic in their award pricing. Sometimes this is bad for consumers, like when a domestic ticket within the US is no longer 25,000 miles no matter where you start and end your journey and has increased to 32,000, 40,000, and even 50,000 points in coach. However, dynamic pricing also allows airlines to dip below their standard award charts to fill seats on empty planes.
This week Delta Air Lines began issuing restrictive Basic Economy awards at lower prices.
What Does A Basic Economy Award Ticket Mean?
Basic Economy comes with greater restrictions. For paid tickets, this means boarding last, no upgrades or mile accruals, no status miles for flights and no ability to pay for a checked bag. At draconian United Airlines, it also means that you will not be able to bring a rollaboard and a personal item on the plane (Delta and American both allow these two articles). Basic Economy tickets do not come with seat selection options and passengers cannot change their ticket.
But on award tickets, few of these restrictions matter. Passengers are unable to earn status or miles from award flights anyway, the baggage rules are the same. Basic Economy award tickets cannot be changed so there is some loss of flexibility from a traditional award, but Medallion members will still board in a priority lane. Medallion elites are still eligible for a free checked bag (and presumably those with the Delta credit card).
Remember: Due to US regulations, children have to be assigned a seat next to at least one parent regardless of the fare they purchase. In practice, most families with more than one child or parent are seated together, likely out of convenience.
How Much Cheaper Is a Basic Economy Award?
A little. There have been a few write-ups about the service of note, Points, Miles and Martini’s found a few examples with a savings of 1,000-2,500 miles in each direction. That’s not dramatic savings (15-20% in the examples listed) but Medallion members aren’t really losing much.
Flexibility is the biggest issue for me with these fares. I probably wouldn’t trade 1,000 miles for the difference between a potential upgrade to Comfort Plus and the ability to cancel and refund the points to my account if I was a Delta elite. However, when comparing the Minneapolis-Phoenix route, I might. The difference of 5,000 miles total is enough for a short Basic Economy award one-way and that adds real value to me in exchange for very little.
Why Are Basic Economy Awards Great?
I highlighted in another post the absolute highway robbery United charges for one-way and roundtrips between certain short-distance markets like Newark-Pittsburgh. When British Airways offered 4,500-mile one-way awards for flights less than 650 miles in distance, my family and I flew to Washington DC, New York City, and Chicago more often. While the increase to 7,500 minimum still seems like a deal when compared to United’s price, the increase meant that a family weekend in the Big Apple went from 27,000 Avios to 45,000.
The difference between two quick weekend trips per year and three is substantial to us. Short flights with lots of competition make awards hard to justify and even tougher to stomach high costs.
Sometimes, I also have “orphaned miles” those that I cannot spend and may eventually expire (though Skymiles never do). With Delta right now I have just over 6,000 miles – not enough to fly anywhere on United – which suddenly have value if I am prepared to fly with restrictions.
While my family has millions of miles and points spread across many different currencies, not everyone does. For the casual traveler that may have one mileage credit card or flies a couple of times per year. With Basic Economy Awards, they can turn 12,000 miles into a trip to Florida from Charleston as opposed to not being able to utilize those points until they earn more or purchase miles.
What do you think? Are Basic Economy Awards great or not so great? Do you think there are greater implications across the industry as a result?