basic economy seating airplane passengers airline flight
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Airlines are unlikely to get rid of basic economy fares any time soon. And they don’t even care if nobody buys the no-frills tickets.

Basic economy is “more of a defensive product than it is an offensive product, because we need to have a product for people who are just price conscious,” Delta Air Lines president Glen Hauenstein told reporters last week, according to Air Transport World. “Our sell-up [from basic economy] continues to remain high and I think that’s the key part.”

In other words: traditional airlines only created basic economy as an option for people who generally fly on budget airlines. It was never meant to provide a price break for its average customer base. In fact, airlines gauge their success on how many people choose not to buy basic economy tickets.

The trend has only continued to grow over the past few years. Delta was the first legacy airline to offer this airfare category, introducing basic economy back in 2015. And in February of this year, United and American Airlines jumped onboard.

Even if, as a collective flying society, travelers decided never again to buy a basic economy ticket, airlines would be unlikely to eliminate the option.

Airlines make billions off the tricky venture (possibly $3.1 billion by next year). In addition to retaining customers who would have otherwise been poached by budget carriers, airlines often profit from travelers who don't fully understand the limitations of a basic economy ticket. Hauenstein noted that these customers often end up paying more to upgrade their trip (fees for checked baggage, for food, and for seat selections, among others).

The best defense against overpaying for lower class service is to read up on the specific policies for individual airlines. Those traveling with extra luggage will likely find that a general economy ticket is the cheaper option.