U.S. Airlines Are Bringing Back Basic Economy Fare Restrictions

Basic economy is getting more basic.

Inside American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Main Cabin.
Photo: Getty Images

Bargain airline travel just got a whole lot less flexible.

With leisure travelers returning to the skies across the country, U.S. airlines are bringing back pre-pandemic restrictions on basic economy fares.

Passengers traveling on Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines can no longer make any changes to basic economy tickets. The restriction applies to basic economy bookings made on or after May 1.

American Airlines was the first to bring back these restrictions, making domestic basic economy tickets purchased on or after April 1, 2021 nonchangeable as well as nonrefundable.

There are a couple of benefits some basic economy fliers will be able to keep — at least for now. American, for example, continues to allow basic economy passengers to purchase preferred seats and upgrades.

Meanwhile, Delta and United do not allow basic economy passengers to upgrade their travel.

And while pre-pandemic travel restrictions are making their way back, change fees are not. United, American, and Delta have all promised to make their change fee eliminations permanent, matching a policy previously only available on Southwest Airlines.

But change fees were never applicable to basic economy fares, which, prior to the pandemic, required passengers to use the ticket purchased or forfeit its value.

With regular economy fares, customers are still able to cancel itineraries on Alaska, Delta, United, and American, and put the value of their canceled trip toward a new flight.

JetBlue's pandemic flexibility policy for basic economy fares is set to expire at the end of this month, but that doesn't mean passengers will be stuck with the tickets they bought. JetBlue plans to offer basic fare customers the option to make changes, with a fee, The Points Guy reported last month.

Regardless of the airline, basic economy fees remain eligible for refunds if an airline significantly changes the itinerary or cancels the flight.

Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel + Leisure contributor who has visited 50 countries on six continents and 47 U.S. states. She loves historic plaques, wandering new streets and walking on beaches. Find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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