A few days ago, according to a Delta press release, FlyerTalk, and some other blogs, Delta introduced a product it is marketing as “Basic Economy”. This is a very restrictive coach fare that Delta is marketing between Detroit and Orlando, Tampa, Ft. Meyers, and Ft. Lauderdale. This fare is completely non-refundable, is non-changeable, and does not allow you to select your seats, even if you are an elite member.
According to the folks over at FlyerTalk, including the Delta representative that posts there, seats are automatically assigned at check-in and you aren’t allowed to change them. This makes it extremely likely that, when booking a Basic Economy ticket, if you are not upgraded due to your status, you will be assigned a middle coach seat.
What this means for the business traveler
It is worth repeating that seats are not assignable, even for elite members. If you want to avoid the middle seats in the back, you would be wise to avoid Basic Economy.
If your travel policy mandates that you select the lowest fare, you may be out of luck if Delta Basic Economy is the lowest fare. For those of us who have some flexibility in our travel arrangements, we must still be cautious when booking on Delta, as business travel portals (and sites like Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity) generally show the lowest fares available.
Because this is a fairly new change, your travel agent may not know exactly how this works and your booking system may not tell you that you can’t assign a seat. The folks at FlyerTalk have reported travelers being told that they will be able to select a seat after booking, only to discover that seat selections are not allowed.
How to avoid Economy Basic
If you can book your tickets directly on Delta’s website, do that. Either use the Advanced Search page and select “Economy T (or Higher)” under “Fare Class” or you can select your fare from the “Economy” column. The image at the right shows what you will see on Delta.com if Basic Economy is offered.
Since many corporate travel portals only display the lowest available fare classes in the search results, you might have to do a bit of searching. Most travel portals will display the fare class (which for Delta economy will be one of the following: YBMHQKLUT) during the search process. If the only Delta fares showing up are “E” fares, then you should try to exclude these fares from the search. You may have access to an advanced booking page where you can specify fare class. Either choose to exclude “E” class or choose “T” class or higher.
Alternatively, if you prefer to book tickets over the phone, you should be able to tell your travel agent to search for tickets on Delta “only in fare class T or higher”. S/he should be able to help you search for regular economy fares this way.
The final option is to buy-up to a preferred seat. Currently, it appears this is only available at check-in, so this option is a bit risky. At check-in, especially on heavily-booked flights, any desirable economy seat will likely be gone.
The bottom line
If you’re flying Delta between Detroit and some markets in Florida and don’t want to sit in a middle seat, you must now be a little more cautious when booking tickets.
There is much speculation about Delta expanding this to other fares and other markets. As of right now, I have no information about this, but as this unfolds, I will update the blog.