Risk of “unknowingly” booking into Delta BASIC economy with OTAs – Can it happen?

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delta-com basic fare

warning box for basic economy on delta on delta-com

Last month the mainstream media went simply “Batso” over the fact that they just all found out that Delta is offering seats in economy with a boatload of nasty restrictions. I have been warning about the “evils” of Delta BASIC tickets for elites for almost a year, that is, since October of last year when we found out about this part of “B” in the OFCMB breakdown of the two kinds of seats Delta has, but sells and segments them into five for marketing purposes.

I am NOT onboard with the fact that something nefarious or passenger type shaming is going on. Delta, on Delta.com, VERY clearly warns you before you buy just what a bunch of crushing and horrid restrictions you are agreeing to before you have a chance to buy this cheap ticket. I like that.

But what if you book outside Delta.com to get some cash back or extra points. What if you use an OTA or “online travel agent” such as AMEX Travel, Orbitz, Kayak or many others. Or, what if you use points from another program to book your tickets. Is there a chance you could “accidentally” book into this restrictive BASIC fare class and not know about it? I decided to take a good look at some of the “majors” to compare. The findings were interesting and most of the sites at least included the warning, just not as explicitly as Delta does with their pop-up alert.

For the comparison, as you can see from the opening screen shot in the post, I will be using the direct flight from Atlanta, Georgia (ATL) to Orlando, Florida (MCO) on November 11th, 2015 and it is a one-way ticket. The BASIC ECONOMY price including tax is $68.10. The “MAIN CABIN” coach price including tax is $83.10. Some of the sites I will look at include tax in the search and others do not. Most round up to the highest dollar so keep that in mind as you look at the screen shots. Let’s dive in:

amex travel site delta fares no basic

The first one is American Express Travel. They do not even give you the option, in this test search, to choose BASIC economy seats. This is good and bad. Good to me, as I would avoid this class as an elite, but bad as I have no idea how they do or do not warn you about BASIC seats.

expedia 1 yes to basic fare

expedia 2

Next let’s look at Expedia. Interestingly on the first search page you are not alerted or given a warning about BASIC but you are clearly alerted on the second page once you select the flight about “Important Flight Information” that outlines just how bad the restrictions are on the flight. Clearly not as good as the Delta warning with a pop-up, but still a very clear warning that I like.

kayak-com atl to mco DID grab basic e-fare

kayak is sending you over to basic economy

kayak booking link ends up in basic economy

Next let’s look at a site that does not do the booking but after you find the flights sends you over to the airline website. I have for a long time been a HUGE fan of KAYAK as it can often find flights you just cannot find on Delta.com. Plus, since you are in the end booking on Delta.com, you do not risk many of the issues that can come up with booking on OTAs or with a travel agent. However, in this case, there is just NO WARNING about the fact that you are booking in BASIC and it even bypasses the Delta pop-up warning and the only indication you are in BASIC is at the final confirmation screen in gray text.

skiplagged atl to mco NOT a basic eFare - price was pretax

skiplagged link NO for basic economy

skiplagged-com avoids basic booking

This one is the most interesting and ironic to me. SkipLagged.com is famously hated by the airlines as it is often a way to avoid paying for a higher priced one-way by doing a hidden city booking, that is, you book A-B-C but get off at B and never fly part C maybe saving a ton of cash. In this case it is a direct flight so no city shenanigans but Skiplagged prices it without tax in the search and when you cut-n-paste the search it found it avoids the BASIC fare and puts you into V class MAIN CABIN coach. I did not do exhaustive searches to see if it would be possible to find a BASIC fare with the site. Interesting to me either way.

orbits 1 yes to basic fare

orbits 2

final page on orbitz with choice to buyup to Main Cabin delta and more info on basic

Next we have a look at Orbitz. Well, two looks actually as we move to the next part on points. First a normal search. On the first page there is a little bit of info in the form of a text alert that you can click and drop down to see the information about BASIC. Also, impressively, on the final page before you buy there is another big notice about the fare class you are in and the chance for a few bucks more to buy-up to the MAIN CABIN coach seat without the same restrictions. Impressive and very nice.

us bank warns of basic economy powered by orbitz

Since we are talking Orbitz, let’s look at spending points with US Bank FlexPerks points. Now I am not saying this is a good use of 20,000 FlexPerks points but just using this to compare the same flight as all the rest in this post. Since FlexPerks uses Orbitz as their booking engine you would expect a similar type of warning as on the Orbiz site itself. There is a drop-down box with the warning of the restrictions. I have had success, during other bookings, calling and getting a higher fare class to improve my upgrade chances. If FlexPerks is finding BASIC only seats I sure would call and make sure you are NOT booked into this restrictive fare class with your points!

UR no mention of Delta BASIC economy booking (1)

UR no mention of Delta BASIC economy booking (2)

UR no mention of Delta BASIC economy booking (3)

Then finally let’s look at the worst one of the bunch, that is, booking with Chase and / or spending Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a ticket. Notice there is ZERO warning that you are potentially ending up in a BASIC ECONOMY seat. Not on the second screen when you going to select flight and not on the screen just before you fill out the passenger info. Disgraceful and just not good. Chase should be better than this. There should be warnings or they should, like others shown above, just avoid allowing users to booking into BASIC without clear warnings.

Another noteworthy point is that Delta has some companies on negotiated rates that are lower than normal published rates. They have stated many of these exclude BASIC as part of the agreement. I can see a frequent flyer, expecting the perks of elite medallion status, truly being upset if they found themselves booking into a BASIC fare and losing all the perks they are accustomed to. Smart move Delta.

So what this all boils down to is be very careful. Read and check. The “alphabet soup” of Delta fare classes was confusing before and BASIC does not make it any better. It really is up to you to avoid this – if that is what you want. Maybe, for the savings as a non-elite, it is worth it to sit in a middle seat with likely no access to overhead space for a short flight. But know up front that is what you are getting.

Lastly, as a personal observation, the reason Delta says BASIC exists is to compete against the airlines that sell cheap seats with similar restrictions. But when you look at the prices Frontier and Spirit offer on this test route they are MUCH lower than Delta offers with BASIC. I guess I think if Delta is going to impose such horrid restrictions they had better match the prices that the competition offers as well! – Rene


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  1. I have to book my work travel through Concur/American Express. They do not warn you, nor do you have the ability to select another fare class (other than business). You are able to see that you’re in BASIC, but only if you look really hard and view the fare class details.

    I booked a flight ATL – LAS recently and accidentally booked BASIC. I did not realize it until I went to Delta.com to change my seats to Economy Comfort and saw that I had to wait until check-in for seat assignment. I had a bit of a Platinum diva moment and immediately went back to my company booking tool and cancelled the flight.

    The day I made my original booking, I searched Delta.com and Main cabin was only $20 more round trip than BASIC. Because I couldn’t distinguish between fare classes on my company’s tool I waited several weeks to make my purchase again and the Main cabin ticket increased by $150. Now, regardless of how much lead time I have before a trip, I wait until three weeks before to book because Basic is usually gone by that point. It is a very frustrating process and needs to be corrected.

  2. I have another data point for you. Bank of America’s Travel Center is powered by Orbitz. The Travel Center’s search does not include a way to differentiate or exclude fare classes. Instead, the only options you have are Economy, Premium Economy, Business, or First. If Basic Economy comes up as an option, searching for Premium Economy does not get out you of an E fare. No option to upgrade out of E into a regular economy fare comes up during the checkout process.

    What’s worse is that the BofA agents are powerless to help. I spoke with two agents today who both told me they don’t have access to an advanced search option. In other words, they don’t have the power to sell you a fare class above the cheapest fares in each cabin class.

    Why I’m using BofA to book travel is a longer story.

  3. I booked a flight through AmericanExpress because I get double the points if I book through AmericanExpress. Big mistake. I booked a flight months ago and didn’t really pay attention to it. I just went to see where my seats are and I’m in this BasicEcnomy class. Not worth the extra points. I’m kinda bummed.

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