Purchasing an airline ticket can be a complicated process. The days of simple first class or coach tickets are long past. Today’s travelers can choose from a number of seating options that have clever names and confusing options.
It’s only going to get worse. The major U.S. airlines are adding a new type of no-frills ticket to compete with low-cost airlines like Spirit and Allegiant. Industry experts call these tickets “last class” or “economy minus.” These seats are cheaper, but they include severe restrictions, such as no advance seat assignments and no changes.
It may seem tempting to simply purchase the least expensive seat, but keep in mind those come with the most restrictions. If your travel plans aren’t firm or you need to stow a carry-on bag in the overhead compartment, you may want to avoid last class fares.
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines was the first major U.S. airline to introduce last class seating, which it officially calls Basic Economy. It’s one of five classes of service Delta offers, which are, from least to most expensive: Basic Economy, Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+, First Class, and Delta One.
Basic Economy and Main Cabin service are Delta’s back-of-the-plane experiences, and they provide the same size seats and other amenities. The biggest difference that travelers should be aware of is that when you purchase a Basic Economy ticket, you do not get to choose your seat. Delta automatically assigns you a seat at check-in, and it’s often the least desirable seat, such as the dreaded middle seat. You also can’t change or refund Basic Economy seats, and you’re typically in the last group to board.
Here’s a complete list of restrictions found in Delta’s Basic Economy tickets:
- No changes permitted
- Same-day changes not permitted
- No paid or complimentary upgrades available
- Seat assigned after check-in
- Last to board and access overhead bin space
- Priority boarding not available to purchase
In late 2015, American Airlines announced during an earnings call that it was joining the last class game. It plans to launch no-frills tickets in the first half of 2016.
American has yet to announce what it will call the new service. The president of the airline said the “less frills” service would be “really cheap.” Airline industry experts expect the tickets to have unassigned seats until an hour before boarding, no refunds or exchanges, no loyalty miles, and potentially higher checked bag fees.
United Airlines announced at the start of 2016 that it intends to launch last class service. Tickets should begin selling in the second half of the year. Like American, United has yet to announce the official name of its new no-frills seats, nor what restrictions will be included.