The elimination of change fees for main cabin fares raises the stakes when choosing whether to book basic economy. For example, let’s say a round-trip basic economy fare is $200 compared with $250 for regular economy. If you need to change your plans, you’ll have to book an entirely new ticket for (hopefully) another $200, bringing the total to $400.
This means that you should book basic economy fares only when you are exceedingly confident in your plans. If you want to get extra nerdy, you can multiply the cost of the basic economy ticket by the estimated percent chance of needing to change it. If this value is larger than the difference between the cost of basic and regular economy, you should avoid the basic economy fare.
Book basic economy when you don’t mind the middle seat
Free seat assignments are generally granted to main cabin fares but not basic economy fares. This means if you book basic economy, you will be assigned a seat by the airline unless you pay an extra fee. Often, this means getting stuck with a middle seat.
The trade-offs here are harder to quantify, but in general there are three situations where basic economy’s lack of seat assignments are not a big deal:
- When traveling solo: Families who want to sit together will need to pay extra for assigned seats.
- For short flights: An hour in the middle seat is no big deal. Six hours is another story.
- For empty flights: This can be hard to predict ahead of time, but if you’re reasonably confident your flight will not be full, you can usually nab a better seat once you’re on the plane.