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United Delays Basic Economy Class, For Now

United has decided to delay implementation of its low-frills economy product, according to Skift.

This low-price, bare bones fare class, dubbed Budget Economy, is aimed squarely at discount carriers like Spirit, which famously offer ultra-low fares with equally ultra-low perks and extras.

Budget Economy was supposed to debut right around now, but has been pushed back several months due to “changes” with the product. According to Skift, “Airport workers were told United was suspending training for how to handle the new fares, and the carrier did not immediately say when it would resume. The training was to cover the ‘benefits and limitations’ of the new fare, according to an earlier message.”

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Writing for Skift, Brian Sumer notes this should come as little surprise considering the recent management turmoil at the airline. Back in August, the airline sent a bulletin to employees, saying “While this new fare will offer budget-conscious customers fewer benefits, it will enable us to be more competitive with other airlines that are offering similar fares.”

Details on United’s low-frills fares were sparse, but similar fares from other major airlines offer some insight. SmarterTravel’s own Tim Winship described Delta’s Basic Economy fares as “heavily discounted, highly restricted coach fares,” noting that passengers board last, can’t choose seats until check-in, can’t change their reservations, and (not surprisingly) can’t get refunds for their tickets. That said, travelers don’t give up any onboard amenities like in-flight entertainment or Wi-Fi—perks not available on ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier.

Spirit, in particular, has done well with this model, offering what’s essentially inter-city bus service at 35,000 feet. The flip side, of course, is that the in-flight experience is adequate at best. Mainline carriers like Delta, United, and American—and certainly low-cost  airlines like JetBlue and Southwest—offer a better onboard experience than Spirit, which makes these fares a better value on paper.

Readers, do you find these bare bones coach fares appealing? Will you consider United’s Budget Economy option if and when United finally launches the fare class?


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By Carl Unger

Contributing Editor Carl Unger believes that every trip is worth taking. He loves an extended trip to Europe as much as he enjoys exploring the towns and landscape near home. Basically, you'll find him wherever there is good food, fresh air, and plenty of stories to bring home.

Carl has been writing for SmarterTravel since 2005. His travel writing has also appeared on USA Today and the Boston travel guide.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "It's not revolutionary, but a small Moleskine notebook is my one travel must-have. It's great for noting things you want to remember and it takes up hardly any space in your bag."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Japan. I'd love to take a month off and visit the cities, temples, and countryside. I'm fascinated by the country's juxtaposition of ancient traditions and modern ambitions."

Travel Motto: “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” –Terry Pratchett

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Window."

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