Beating basic economy with credit cards

The new craze in domestic travel is airlines offering basic economy fares which rarely include checked bags or seat assignments. Thankfully, beating basic economy with credit cards

In order to stay competitive, airlines now offer no-frills pricing for super cheap. These are the fares that will popular on Google Flights, as well. Nothing is more frustrating than thinking you’ve scored a cheap fare to your destination only to realize it’s basic economy and you have bag restrictions and no seat assignment.

We will explore several domestic airlines’ basic economy product and if it’s possible to beat it with select credit cards.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Companion Fare is one of the best deals among all airline credit cards, but it can also help travelers save on checked bags. Photo by Alaska.
Alaska Airlines Companion Fare is one of the best deals among all airline credit cards, but it can also help travelers save on checked bags. Photo by Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines is the newest airline to add a basic economy fare, known as a Saver Fare. And thankfully, it’s not that restrictive.

  • Limited seating available at purchase, most will be assigned at check-in
  • Flyers are still allowed one carry-on + one personal item
  • No refunds, no changes, no standby (even for elite-status guests)
  • Flyers will still earn miles toward elite status
  • Elites are not able to upgrade cabins or receive preferred seating

Beating basic economy with Alaska Air credit cards

  • Alaska Air Visa Signature Card: Free checked bag (Annual fee: $75)

Unfortunately, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card isn’t going to help a whole lot with this, however, it does allow for a free checked bag. The main perk of the Alaska Air Visa Signature card is the annual companion fare which is one of the best airline credit card perks.

Choosing a Saver Fare will still limit seat selection and elite benefits. But, for non-elites on a short flight, it’s not a horrible option.

American Airlines

American Airlines has a really restrictive basic economy product. With that said, it’s gotten better. Until a couple of years ago, it didn’t allow for a carry-on bag.

  • No advanced seat selection
  • Boarding group 9 (final boarding group)
  • No upgrades
  • Earn fewer miles towards elite status
  • Flight changes not permitted

Beating basic economy with American Airlines credit cards

With all of the American Airlines co-branded credit cards, there is a constant in the way travelers can beat basic economy: free checked bag and early boarding. Unfortunately, there’s no way to pick an advanced seat selection by holding a specific credit card.

Delta Airlines

The Delta basic economy fare was the first American carrier to roll out a basic economy fare. If you purchase a basic economy, you will have to deal with the following restrictions:

  • No advanced seat selection (although you can pick it at check-in)
  • Boarding group 8 (final boarding group)
  • No upgrades
  • Flight changes not permitted

Unlike other airlines, basic economy fares are still permitted a carry-on bag.

Beating basic economy with Delta credit cards

In this case, all of the Delta co-branded credit cards carry the same benefits to beat basic economy. Additionally, you do not need to use the Delta co-branded credit card to purchase the flight in order to get these benefits. Cardholders for all of these cards also receive free checked bags for other travelers on the same reservation.

JetBlue Airlines

Finding the best starter credit cards to earn points and miles can lead you to free flights and hotels.
JetBlue’s version of a basic economy fare is similar to other airlines’ regular economy fare.

JetBlue introduced different fares as well, but similar to Alaska Air, it’s not horribly restrictive. Instead of allowing all fares to include two checked bags, the new Blue Fare comes without a checked bag.

But, not coming with a checked bag is the only difference. It’s really similar to other airlines’ regular economy fares.

Beating basic economy with JetBlue credit cards

Thankfully, travelers are able to beat this basic economy fare with a credit card. JetBlue offers two cards: The JetBlue Card and the JetBlue Plus Card. the Plus version is the one to have here. Although it carries an annual fee of $99, it comes with a free checked bag for up to 6 people on the same reservation purchased with the card.

Plus cardholders can buy the cheap Blue fare and still get a checked bag!

United Airlines

The United Airlines basic economy fare is the most restrictive of all domestic carriers.

  • No carry-on bag (only a personal item)
  • An auto-assigned seat at check-in (no changes permitted)
  • Boarding group 3-5 (final boarding groups)
  • No upgrades
  • Flight changes not permitted
  • No online check-in (unless paying for a bag)

Beating basic economy with United credit cards

Unlike the Delta card, travelers must use the card in order to get these benefits. Because no carry-on bags are permitted with United basic economy fares, travelers will be forced to pay for a checked bag if they want to bring an item bigger than a backpack. The only way to get around this is with one of the United co-branded credit cards.

Final Thoughts

Basic economy fares aren’t going anywhere, but thankfully, if savvy, beating basic economy with credit cards isn’t hard. Not only will these credit cards help save on extra fees, but many of them have other perks as well like companion fares or even premium benefits like Global Entry credits.

There are other credit cards that can help wipe out travel expenses as well. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or American Express Gold Card come with annual travel credits, but you’re paying for it with an increased annual fee.


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