United tries to out-loser American and Delta and why they’ll get away with it

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.


Ugh.  Losers.



  1. “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.”

    Andy, where will we go?

    • Southwest 🙂

    • Well, one thing is clear. Loyalty should be two way. Most passengers have long memories and after negative experiences will be free to use whatever carrier seems to line up with their needs at that moment.
      I expect an uptick in passengers selecting major EU carriers rather than cram into a transatlantic 737 oor 757 flight.

    • Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska.

  2. Great piece. Thank you!

  3. Well said. JasonD does have a point, though.

  4. I have been flying southwest more after years with low level American Airlines status.

  5. I hope the plumbers , gardeners, and electricians working his home using low quality materials & charging him high fees if he wants to go beyond the basic level service and look for enhancements.

  6. Amen! I hate to say it but the only way to fight back is to own airline stock(as a trade). Short term this will give a huge boost to earnings. However, in usual myopic CEO world this Mckinsey-led charge into extreme greed will blow up in their collective faces. Not sure when, but it will.
    Frankly the worst part of all this, as you briefly mentioned, is the outright lie that these legacy carriers are offering BE fares to “compete” with the ULCC’s because travelers want “choice”. What an effing lie.
    I’d have more respect for these greedy losers is they simply said something like “…business is so good that we’e gonna stick these lousy fares strait up your ass and you can’t do anything about it…muuuuu haaaaaaa haaaaaaaa…”

  7. How about this, all basic economy customers protest waiting for the the last boarding minute to enter the plane? It becomes chaotic and departure times are missed.

    • This is my 26th flight on United this year alone, it is the first time I have been Basic Economy. I had no idea that was a thing until last night when I could not get my boarding pass. Not only could I not get my boarding pass on my phone, I had to wait in the baggage check line to get my pass through security…I’m pre-check so that past went well…but when I got to the gate, I had to go see the agent for a seat assignment. Middle seats in the back of the plane both ways…Super excited, let me tell ya.


Leave a Reply



Get the latest updates daily!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

%d bloggers like this: