If you are thinking of booking a flight, you might wonder what the difference is between basic economy and main cabin.
Well, there are some significant distinctions that could impact your travel experience. Basic Economy fares usually come with fewer amenities, restrictions on seat selection, and no possibility of changes or refunds. Main Cabin, on the other hand, includes more perks such as admission to overhead bins and flexibility in changing flights or choosing seats.
Whether you prefer to save money or want more comfortable options for your trip, knowing which one suits you best can help you make an informed decision about air travel. Continue reading this article to discover the differences between Basic Economy and Main Cabin so you can determine what fits your needs and budget.
“To ensure smooth and enjoyable travel, understanding these two fare types can be crucial. It will not only help you pick the right ticket but also minimize unpleasant surprises at check-in or boarding.”
In this guide, we will explain further what each option offers and highlight their advantages and drawbacks. We hope that by the end of this post, you will have a clearer picture of what to expect when booking either Basic Economy or Main Cabin for your next flight.
Understanding Basic Economy
If you’ve been scrolling through airline flights lately, you might have stumbled upon the words “basic economy” and “main cabin”. While these two options seem pretty much alike, there are some notable differences between them. Understanding these differences is essential if you want to make an informed choice about which travel option suits your needs best.
What is Basic Economy?
Basic economy is a low-cost airline fare that comes with certain restrictions attached to it. It’s usually the cheapest option offered by airlines, but it has a lot of limitations compared to other classes of airfare. Essentially, basic economy provides passengers with the same seat as those in regular economy class at a lower price point.
One of the biggest differences between basic economy and other fare types is the lack of change or cancellation flexibility. In most cases, once you purchase a basic economy ticket, you won’t be able to refund or exchange it. Additionally, basic economy often means no seat assignment until check-in, which means travelers could end up with middle seats or seats that are far apart from their traveling companions.
What are the Restrictions of Basic Economy?
In addition to the above-mentioned constraints on changes and cancellations, another restriction associated with basic economy is when it comes to carry-on baggage. If space runs out in overhead compartments, bags may need to be checked in for a fee. As such, travelers should pack light if they don’t want to spend extra money for having to check their luggage.
Basic economy also sometimes prohibits seat selection before boarding. Passengers who book this type of flight can only choose their places within 24 hours before takeoff. So, if you have a preference for an aisle or window seat, you may miss out if you wait too long to select it.
How is Basic Economy Different from Main Cabin?
The main differences between basic economy and main cabin are cost and in-flight perks. Typically, the main cabin fare option costs more money than basic economy, but provides passengers some features that may not come with a basic ticket. For example, main cabin offers free seat selection at booking (depending on airlines’ policies), while basic economy assigns seats only if available upon check-in or boarding, as previously mentioned.
Main cabin tickets also allow travelers to bring carry-on luggage without having to pay extra fees for checked bags. Also, these passengers get priority boarding pass privileges, which means getting priority when it comes to choosing overhead space and seating. Additionally, flexibility in terms of change or cancellation is much greater with main cabin tickets compared to their cheaper basic economy counterparts. Frequent flyers often avoid basic economy because they know that other restrictions can make travel uncomfortable or less convenient.
Why Do Airlines Offer Basic Economy?
Airlines offer basic economy fares mainly to cater to budget-conscious travelers who value price over all else. This allows airlines to remain competitive against low-cost carriers by providing customers with cheap options. By offering this kind of ticket option, airlines can give people with fewer resources access to air travel.
In addition, airlines have become particularly good at upselling – marketing techniques that encourage passengers to spend more money for additional services or upgrades before boarding the plane. Those looking for amenities such as selecting specific seats ahead of time can upgrade to a higher class during the booking process or add them separately until 24-hours before departure.
“The goal is to appeal to different types of consumers by offering varying levels of service, quality, and comforts. The flexibility in pricing serves two purposes: It ensures profitability for airlines while meeting disparate consumer interests” said Andrew Schrage, CEO of Money Crashers.
Knowing the difference between basic economy and main cabin tickets can help save money as well as avoid those uncomfortable surprises while traveling. Basic economy is a budget-friendly option that comes with certain limitations regarding luggage, seat selection, and flexibility. Main cabin fares are more costly but come with some benefits, such as free baggage allowance and priority boarding privileges.
Benefits of Main Cabin
More Comfortable Seats
If you’re someone who values comfort over everything else, then booking a main cabin seat is the right choice for you. These seats are designed for more legroom and offer a better recline than basic economy ones.
One significant benefit of opting for main cabin instead of basic economy is that you get to choose your seat before boarding (unless it’s otherwise specified). This can mean getting aisle or window seating or being able to sit near friends or family traveling with you. Plus, some airlines have upgraded seats in their main cabins, such as United Airlines’ “Economy Plus” seats.
“The more comfortable seats can make for a more pleasant trip overall, especially if you’re going long distances.” -Julia Eudy, Travel Editor at U.S. News & World Report
More Luggage Allowance
Limited luggage allowances often cause headaches and hassles among travelers, but this is one area that sets main cabin apart from its counterpart. With higher baggage limits, passengers can bring more bags and not worry about additional fees which makes it an ideal option for longer trips.
American Airline’s website states that main cabin fares come with one checked bag up to 50 pounds each way. In comparison, basic economy travelers don’t receive any complimentary checked bag privileges.
“Traveling light means being able to move around more freely and without having to deal with lugging around cumbersome bags all day. It’s also beneficial when busying yourself with things like taking public transport.” -Suzanne Wolko, luxury travel consultant at Arden Road Travel
Choosing between basic economy versus main cabin depends on several factors – schedule flexibility, onboard experience, and budget. Although basic economy saves money in the short run, it is only a good choice if travelers can deal with the various restrictions and limitations that come along with it. But for travelers who desire an improved flying experience without breaking the bank account, then main cabin fares offer superior benefits.
Differences in Seat Assignments
Choosing the right flight option to meet your travel needs is crucial. Whether you are traveling for business or leisure, deciding between main cabin and basic economy on a commercial airline can make all the difference when it comes to seat assignments.
Free Seat Assignments in Main Cabin
Main cabin fare is considered the next best alternative after first class with free seat selection available once check-in opens to 24 hours before departure. This means that passengers can choose window, aisle or front row seats based on their preference without additional charges. Passengers willing to pay an extra fee have access to preferred seating like exit rows and bulkhead seats which offer more legroom. The ability to select a specific seat and even change it up until flight time makes this feature appealing for passengers who value flexibility and comfort.
“The most important advantage of booking in main cabin over basic economy is that travelers get a choice of seat” -Scott Mayerowitz, AP Airlines Reporter
No Seat Selection in Basic Economy
In contrast, a basic economy fare doesn’t provide free seat selection at any point during the booking process. Instead, airlines assign seats automatically upon completion of check-in, meaning passengers face the possibility of being separated from families and friends or getting undesirable middle seats. It’s not possible to change or upgrade seats, although you may still be able to purchase additional benefits such as priority boarding, extra baggage allowance or Wi-Fi during the reservation process. Some airlines grant couples or family members sitting together priority, but only if space is available. As a result, some basic economy passengers feel itchy about what seat they will end up with, especially those who care deeply about saving money or consider themselves budget travellers.
“Anyone considering purchasing a basic economy ticket should understand that they’re only getting the absolute basics, and that there are quite a few restrictions on what they can do.” -Christine Sarkis, senior editor at SmarterTravel
Deciding between main cabin and basic economy bookings depends on your personal preferences and travel needs. If you prefer to sit together with your family or participate in frequent flyer programs with airline loyalty perks like free seat assignments, then booking a Main Cabin fare would be ideal. On the other hand, if flexible dates or comfort aren’t important to you, Basic Economy is a perfect alternative for those traveling solo or on an extremely tight budget.
Knowing the difference between Main Cabin and Basic Economy when it comes to seat assignments can help travelers make informed decisions to ensure they get their preferred seating arrangement without any surprises during check-in.
Restrictions on Baggage
If you are planning to travel by air, it is important to be aware of the baggage restrictions before booking your ticket. Depending on which class you book, there might be differences in the number, weight, and size of bags that you can take with you onboard. With Delta Airlines, there are two main types of fares: Basic Economy and Main Cabin. Below are the baggage restrictions for each.
Weight Limits for Carry-On and Checked Bags
In both Basic Economy and Main Cabin, passengers are allowed to bring one personal item and one carry-on bag onboard. The personal item may include a purse, briefcase, camera bag or laptop bag, while the carry-on should fit in the overhead bin and not exceed 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm) including handles and wheels. If your carry-on exceeds these dimensions, you will need to check it in at the gate and pay additional fees.
The checked baggage allowance differs between Basic Economy and Main Cabin. For Basic Economy, there is no free checked bag allowance included, but you may add up to 5 bags at a fee ranging from $30-$150 per bag depending on your route and destination. Each bag must weigh less than 50 pounds (23 kg). For Main Cabin, the standard checked baggage allowance is one bag weighing up to 50 pounds (23 kg), with additional bags charged at $35 each for domestic flights and $100 each for international flights. Oversize and overweight bags will incur additional fees ranging from $100-$200 per bag depending on the destination.
No Free Checked Bag in Basic Economy
The major difference between Basic Economy and Main Cabin when it comes to baggage allowances is that Basic Economy does not come with any free checked bag. Passengers can only bring one personal item and one carry-on on board without incurring any additional fees. Any extra bags or overweight bags will cost extra, so be aware of this before booking your ticket.
In comparison, Main Cabin includes a free checked baggage allowance for most destinations within the United States and to some international destinations as well. This means that if you book a Main Cabin fare, you can check in your luggage for free up to the standard weight limit of 50 pounds (23 kg) per bag. However, it is important not to exceed the weight limits and have your belongings spread out over multiple suitcases unless you are willing to pay extra fees for each additional piece.
Additional Fees for Extra Bags
If you plan to travel with more than one suitcase or if your checked bag exceeds the allowed weight limit, expect to pay extra fees regardless of whether you book Basic Economy or Main Cabin fares. Delta allows passengers to add up to 5 extra bags during online check-in or at the airport kiosks, but these must still weigh less than 50 pounds (23 kg). Additionally, oversized bags such as sports equipment, musical instruments or pets will attract additional fees depending on their destination. Don’t forget that any extra charges for overweight/oversized bags apply to each way of the journey, including connecting flights.
Restrictions on Oversized and Fragile Items
If you are traveling with delicate or oversized items like firearms, antiques, or artwork, there may be further restrictions on what you can pack and how you should handle them aboard the plane. For example, firearms must be properly packed according to TSA guidelines, and checked in at the reservation counter rather than carried onboard. Similarly, fragile items may need special handling, and oversize items may not fit in overhead compartments and might need to be checked in or stowed under the seat. It is always better to inform your airline before traveling with any oversized/fragile items, so that they can provide specific guidance on how to transport it most securely.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” -Ibn Battuta
Price Comparison: Basic Economy vs Main Cabin
If you are planning to travel by air, it is important to know about the different classes of seats available and their features. The two most commonly used seat types are basic economy and main cabin. While both can get you to your destination, there are significant differences in terms of price, amenities and limitations.
Basic Economy is Cheaper, But with More Limitations
Basic economy seats are considered the cheapest option offered by airlines for domestic and international flights. However, this lower fare usually comes at a cost as travelers receive fewer amenities than those sitting in main cabin:
- The number of carry-on bags may be restricted or not allowed
- Seats could be marginally smaller and located further towards the back of the plane
- Boarding may happen later when compared to other passengers in higher class cabins
- Flight cancellations, rebooking, or rescheduling restrictions that include no refunds
- Mileage earning credit maybe limited on some airline’s reward programs
If you’re traveling with just one personal item or don’t mind giving up certain benefits for a cheaper ticket, basic economy would be ideal. Airlines offering these fares include Delta, American, United, and even upscale carriers like Virgin Atlantic and British Airways.
Main Cabin Offers More Comfort and Amenities, at a Higher Price
The main cabin class offers more comfort and amenities that make flight travel less stressful. You will find that booking a main cabin seat results in bigger seats, priority boarding, free carrying up to 22 kilograms, enough leg room and complimentary food/drinks depending on the duration of the journey:
- More legroom and personal space, with seats reclining farther back
- An included carry-on bag or checked bag benefit for free
- Possible Complimentary food and drinks on some airlines e.g. Alaska Airlines offers Starbucks coffee, Delta’s famous ginger ale.
- Priority boarding before the basic economy passengers in most cases
The main cabin fare is more expensive than basic economy though it is worth paying extra fees to ensure your comfort level up in-flight. It could be a significant difference if you are traveling for longer durations, an important business meeting, or any other critical engagements. Delta Air Lines mention that their Main Cabin Seats differ from Basic Economy because “you won’t get caught off guard at check-in without seat assignments, there are no restrictions around changes..wider seats and you’ll have the chance to earn more miles.”
Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Basic Economy and Main Cabin
When making travel plans, it’s important to consider various factors when trying to choose between the two types of airfare class offered by airlines:
“If you’re flying short-haul, then go basic economy” – Cindy Richards, outreach director for FlyerTalk.com (Source: Travel + Leisure)
- The expected duration of your flight can matter
- How often you fly may determine where you want to allocate towards your seating preference budget whether it is every few years, yearly, multiple times a year?
- Your purpose of travel specifically reviewing what you will need to bring on with you, are amenities like meals necessary? Is excess baggage of utmost importance?
- Your airline credit card program membership status as this could offer benefits such as priority booking, check-in and access to airport lounges.
The choice of seats between basic economy and main cabin depends on factors such as personal travel preferences, luggage needs, budget constraints, length and frequency of trips. The decision is specific to each individual’s travel plan; it’s good to consider all available options before making your decision so that you can maximize what features mean most to you while still staying true to your wallet’s limits.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Basic Economy?
Basic Economy is a budget-friendly fare option offered by some airlines. It is a no-frills option that includes fewer amenities and restrictions compared to other fare classes. Passengers may not have access to certain services, such as seat selection, and may also have to pay extra fees for checked or carry-on baggage.
What is Main Cabin?
Main Cabin is a standard fare option offered by most airlines. It includes more amenities and flexibility compared to Basic Economy, such as the ability to select seats and bring a carry-on bag without incurring additional fees. Passengers in Main Cabin may also have access to in-flight entertainment and complimentary snacks and beverages.
What are the differences in baggage allowances between Basic Economy and Main Cabin?
The baggage allowances for Basic Economy and Main Cabin vary by airline. In general, Basic Economy passengers are allowed to bring one personal item on board, such as a purse or backpack. Main Cabin passengers may bring a carry-on bag in addition to a personal item, and may also have the option to check a bag for free or at a lower cost.
What are the differences in seating options between Basic Economy and Main Cabin?
The seating options for Basic Economy and Main Cabin vary by airline. In general, Basic Economy passengers may not have the option to select a seat in advance and may be assigned a seat at check-in. Main Cabin passengers may have more flexibility in selecting seats, including the ability to choose a specific seat or upgrade to a premium seat for an additional fee.
What are the differences in boarding priorities between Basic Economy and Main Cabin?
The boarding priorities for Basic Economy and Main Cabin vary by airline. In general, Basic Economy passengers are usually assigned to board last or after other fare classes. Main Cabin passengers may have the option to board earlier, such as during priority boarding for elite members or certain credit card holders.