Call it the Spirit Syndrome or the Wow Effect. More airlines are copying the stripped-down fare model of the minimalist airlines, offering lower fares for fewer perks. American, United and Delta have all introduced this fare option. Last week, JetBlue announced that it will add a basic pricing tier next year. Working title: Blue Save.
“Ultra-low-cost carriers and basic economy options created a big market for bare-bones fares, and Internet comparison sites encouraged more people to shop solely on price,” JetBlue president and chief operating officer Joanna Geraghty wrote in a blog post. “Highly price-conscious travelers voted with their wallets, showing they are willing to give up some of the experience for the lowest fare possible.”
The airlines impose many of the same sacrifices, such as no free seat selection, upgrades or cancellations, or changes to your ticket. Passengers usually have to board in the last group. United charges for carry-on bags that fit in the overhead bin ($30 checked baggage fee plus $25 handling fee); the other major airlines do not. Geraghty said JetBlue’s new ticket option will allow a carry-on and a personal item. Passengers will also hang onto their right to such free cabin amenities as in-flight entertainment, Internet, snacks and beverages.
To better understand the newest coach category (and who should avoid it), we reached out to Tracy Stewart, content editor at Airfarewatchdog.com:
Q: Is this the new trend in airline pricing?
A: Basic economy is definitely here to stay. It was really only a matter of time before JetBlue fell in step with the other majors to remain competitive. Alaska Airlines will also roll out its basic economy fares by the end of the year. These types of fares have proven successful for the airlines, the idea being that passengers are lured by the lower basic economy fare and end up booking the higher standard fare for the frills they’re accustomed to.
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages?
A: Basic economy has changed a lot since its initial rollout, to the benefit of fliers. Delta always allowed passengers to bring both a personal item and a carry-on, and recently American changed its policy to allow the same. For passengers who just want to get from A to B as cheaply as possible, a basic economy ticket offers real value—as long as they play by the rules and pack light. The majority of people fly infrequently. They’re probably in the very last boarding group anyway, so frills including seat selection and an early boarding number may not matter as much as price.
Q: Who is this fare good for and who is it wrong for?
A: The lack of seat selection is likely to turn off most families who are traveling together and want to make sure they are seated together, especially when younger children are involved. Solo travelers, on the other hand, may not care where they sit, so long as they’re guaranteed a seat — and a cheap one at that.
Q: Are people really saving money on this fare category?
A: Fliers can save money with basic economy if they adhere to the rules and can live without a few frills.