April 24, 2024

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Economy Flights Explained

6 min read
The difference between basic economy and economy plus on a plane

Learn what makes premium economy seats worth the additional expense and how to avoid overpaying for your flight.

Basic economy tickets vary between airlines, but generally speaking basic economy fares restrict seat selection and allow only one carry-on bag that fits under your seat. They also typically don’t permit changes or refunds. Economy flight offer flexible fares you surely can take advantage of. 

Seats

Seat space and legroom are of paramount importance when flying economy class, as no one wants their neighbor’s legs or arms encroaching on their personal space during a flight. Airlines typically offer multiple seating options that make long-haul journeys less uncomfortable and more enjoyable, including upgrades that provide less cramped flights with greater comfort levels.

Economy class (also referred to as third class or coach class) is the lowest travel class available on airlines, railroads and ocean cruise ships. In certain countries it may also be known as steerage class.

Economy class typically comprises the main cabin of an aircraft and may be subdivided into economy, premium economy and business classes depending upon factors like airline, route and aircraft type.

On some international routes, premium economy may include physical separation from the main cabin; on others it simply offers wider and more comfortable seats at a slightly higher cost than regular economy. Some airlines even offer basic economy as an option when booking flexible fares; although standards tend to vary among airlines.

Domestic routes typically feature seat pitches between 29 to 32 inches, enabling most economy seats to accommodate passengers of average height without restricting leg room or recline capabilities. On some long-haul routes however, seat pitches increase along with width and recline capabilities.

Economy flights typically offer power outlets and USB ports to accommodate passenger comfort during flights. Some airlines even provide additional USB ports in some aisle and window seats, while other may place them in armrests of certain seats or an overhead bin.

Economy flights typically provide free beverages and snacks, although this varies between airlines. Additional in-flight offerings could include reusable amenity kits with socks, sleep masks, toothbrushes (or even books!), free bottled water as well as free preorder gourmet meals from their menu for an additional fee.

Amenities

Economy flights might conjure images of limited legroom and limited service, but savvy travelers can often find amenities for free on these flights. Airlines add fees for everything from seat selection to checked bags – knowing where and who to ask can save money while still providing an enjoyable flight experience.

Airline amenities depend on both route and plane type. On short and medium-haul flights, most legacy airlines provide complimentary soft drinks as well as small snacks like peanuts or crackers for all passengers. Furthermore, many offer alcoholic beverages for purchase while some even include complimentary meals on long-haul flights.

Many airlines also offer premium economy seats at an additional price, typically towards the front of economy class section, offering more legroom, early boarding privileges, and upgraded amenities. They may not feel quite as luxurious as business class seating but could prove worthwhile for long flights on a tight budget.

Some airlines also provide a lighter version of economy, known as saver or basic economy tickets. These tickets tend to be cheaper, yet limit some benefits offered on flights compared to economy class tickets; making this an attractive option if you want to save money but don’t mind forgoing amenities such as early seat selection and frequent flyer miles accrual.

If you want the optimal flying experience, purchasing a loyalty account with your airline of choice could be beneficial. Earning and redeeming miles becomes more lucrative, while upgrading flights becomes easier than ever!

As an example, United MileagePlus members with Elite status or co-branded credit cards can bring two carry-on bags on most short and medium-haul international flights, while longer trips allow up to three bags if a fee is paid for each additional bag. Check the airline website for more details regarding which types of bags are permitted and check our Economy Comparison Table to compare pitch and width across airlines and planes.

Luggage

When traveling on economy flights with bags in tow, the amount you pay to check them can depend on a variety of factors – like where and what ticket type you purchased. United Airlines requires Economy Light tickets to purchase standard checked baggage allowance; other fare types increase that allowance accordingly; in addition, additional charges apply for overweight bags as well as charges related to oversize cargo.

If your travel plans involve multiple flights with stops between, booking a premium economy seat with extra legroom and pre-purchasing checked luggage may be the way to go. Be mindful that these seats don’t offer under-seat storage during takeoff and landing; any necessary items must instead be stored in overhead bins.

Although you may still book economy tickets without incurring baggage fees, in order to do so on most U.S. airlines it will require either earning elite status or paying with an airline credit card in order to bypass those fees; Southwest Airlines remains exempt.

American allows passengers flying domestically on American airlines to bring one free checked bag per ticket; any additional checked bags are charged at $70 on flights bound for Europe and most Central and South American destinations, while oversized or overweight items will incur fees of $100 for the first piece and $200 for any subsequent ones.

Delta passengers can bring one full-sized carry-on and a personal item (such as a backpack or handbag). To maximize space in your carry-on bag, choose a lightweight suitcase with an integrated outer zip compartment that won’t protrude into the main compartment, and pack compression straps or rolling luggage to maximize your savings – you’ll spend your flight enjoying drinks, snacks and entertainment!

Upgrades

Airline premium economy features wider seats with more legroom, as well as improved cabin environment – though not at the level of business class. Available on long-haul international and domestic flights by Delta and Virgin Atlantic primarily; seating in premium economy typically separates itself from main cabin on most aircraft with seats located nearer the front of plane.

Most airlines provide frequent flier members with elite status the opportunity to purchase upgrades prior to or during flight check-in, giving them more comfortable flying experiences on short or medium-length flights; especially routes where first or business class seats sell out quickly. This option could make a good way of upgrading for routes where first or business class sell out quickly.

Airlines often offer upgrades for loyalty program elite members when space becomes available; this varies based on airline and route, though typically occurs only if an economy flight oversells and there are empty first or business class seats left available.

Another way to increase your chances of an upgrade is arriving early or being flexible with your flight departure time. Seating issues tend to arise at the last minute, and airlines will more readily upgrade someone who already has an open business class seat than someone in economy class.

Your frequent flyer status is the cornerstone of getting free or discounted upgrades on flights. Airlines typically reserve these first class and business class seats for their most dedicated customers and rarely offer more than a handful each time a plane takes off.

If you hold the highest tier of loyalty program elite status, then upgrades should always be given priority if there are open seats. While some might view offering free upgrades to high-level elite members as unfair since they paid full price for their tickets, it is a standard practice to reward customers who show outstanding loyalty with extra benefits.

Though upgrading from basic economy to economy plus or business class may prove to be challenging, the benefits that come with higher ticket classes such as priority check-in, lounge access, dining services on board the aircraft, generous baggage allowances and more make the effort worth while.

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