Basic Economy is defenseless, stupid, and absurd. Delta, United, and American all offer it and it’s an absolute loser in every conceivable way. It was thought up and implemented by airline executives who have not had to purchase a plane ticket for personal or business travel in decades. I’ve ranted about it before and won’t reiterate just how stupid it is. Ok maybe I will.
Basic Economy is designed to make the flying experience so miserable that you’ll pay more just to get away from it.
If anyone knows miserable, it’s United. If anyone knows Literally Copying What The Competition Is Doing And Calling It “Innovation”, it’s United president (and former American president) Scott Kirby.
I’ll give credit to Kirby here though: he’s making things far worse at United than American and Delta. Good for him! As first observed by in The Points Guy an article by all-around good dude JT Genter, United will offer Basic Economy on every single domestic fare.
Every. single. fare.
That’s right, if you walk up to George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston right now and just have to get to Newark with United, there’s a chance you could pay up to $1110 for your ticket, one-way. That $1110 ticket is a Basic Economy ticket.
That’s right, the $1110 you spend with them doesn’t matter when it comes to your flight experience, only the difference between $1110 and $1140. $30 is enough for their miserly loser pockets that they have the gall to ask for it on such an outrageous fare.
No Mr. Kirby, this isn’t about “choice”, it’s because you think you can get away with it
That’s the stupid justification every airline executive spouts. “We want to give customers the choice to spend less money with us if the fare is all they’re concerned about”. Well I have news for you, people aren’t stupid. You didn’t lower a single fare. Every airline that has implemented Basic Economy has simply made their lowest fares Basic Economy and then added $20-30 per leg and called those Economy fares.
Investors love Basic Economy because many investors are complete morons who can seldom see past the current quarter’s financials, as detailed in an incredible book called The Number, which is a must-read. Short-term, does this lead to more revenue? Potentially, sure, and that’s why they’re doing it. Long-term though Basic Economy fares will be remembered as the single-biggest act of hubris that airlines have ever actually implemented.
“They’re just trying to compete with Spirit!” I get that and can hear you saying it. But I have news for you: you can’t have two different airlines on one jet. Spirit and Frontier and the rest of the fee-based low cost carriers are unbelievably transparent about their fees if you book tickets on their website. The only airlines trying to play games are United, Delta, and American.
Here’s the really sad part though
They’re going to get away with it, for now. Remember all the tweets you saw after the customer beating incident? About people Never Flying United Again? A month later they had more traffic, year-over-year, than the year before. People still fly United. They don’t have any other choice most of the time, since there’s such little competition in the domestic market.
Oil prices are so low, though, that executives cannot see the financial impact of these terrible decisions they are making. Instead the executives are insulated by yes-people and sucky-uppy industry analysts who refuse to tell them that what they’re doing really sucks.
I really wish I had a But Wait You Can Do This to get around the Basic Economy loser fares, but I don’t. The people most angry should be those with elite status, as Basic Economy fares basically make you pay to access the benefits of your status.
The worst part about this story is the inevitable copying from Delta and American. I have no doubt they’ll see United getting away with it and do the exact same thing, because that’s what airlines do today, they just copy the worst of what the others are doing.
When the next downturn hits, and a downturn will hit at some point, all of these airlines will wonder where their customers went. We will not forget.