Delta Basic Economy fares permit a larger carry-on bag, so the focus of this story is on American Airlines and United. If you think you can slip by undetected with you rollerboard, be prepared to pay up and lose every penny you saved by buying a Basic Economy fare in the first place.
Let’s first note that both American and United offer exceptions to their “no overhead bin space” Basic Economy policy. Should you have hold an airline-branded credit card, you can take a larger carry-on bag. If you have elite status, you can also take a larger carry-on bag onboard.
But if you don’t qualify for either exception, you’re not going to like the outcome if you’re caught at the gate. On both American and United, it is $25 to check a bag. But if you’re on a Basic Economy fare and you get caught at the gate, your fee is $50. Why? A $25 fee.
United calls it a gate-handling charge. American labels it a gate-service fee. It’s really a penalty on top of a fee.
Unlike others, who can check their bag without cost to their final destination if overhead bin space runs out, the very point of Basic Economy is to help avoid this problem in the first place. That means if you get caught with a bag, you are going to have to pay up.
> Read More: Everything You Need To Know About Basic Economy on United
A Painful Example
United does not allow online or mobile check-in if you purchase a Basic Economy fare and do not pay for a bag. While I’m sure that alleviates the issue for some, it is easy enough for a pair traveling together to take turns checking in while the other stands at a distance with both carry-on bags.
Vishnu Bhargava and his wife were flying on United from San Francisco to Boston in late July and didn’t notice the conditions of Basic Economy tickets. He checked in the night before, paid for one checked bag and planned to bring two carry-ons. He didn’t read the small print.
When they got to the gate, they were told their carry-on bags would have to be checked. His cost $50—the standard bag fee plus the gate handling charge. His wife’s was $60, since she had already checked one bag. United charges $35 for a second bag, plus the extra fee.
“I was shocked,” says Mr. Bhargava, a retired physician from India. “Whatever I saved with Basic Economy, I had to pay more. This fee is not at all fair.”
Oh, it’s fair. It may be stupid, but it’s certainly fair. As long as it was clearly disclosed, which leads me to my final point.
When you buy a Basic Economy fare on united.com, the restrictions could not be clearer. But when buying on many online travel agencies, the prohibitions are not clearly disclosed. Airlines must work with these travel agencies to ensure the restrictions on such fares are transparent. Otherwise, consumers have a right to get angry.
> Read More: One Surprising Reason to Buy United Basic Economy
This reminds me of fare dodging on the trains in Germany, all of which run on an honor system. Sometimes you can get away without buying a ticket, but get caught and you’ll be slapped with an 80EUR fine…probably eating up all your cost savings and more.
If you’re going to buy a Basic Economy ticket on American or United and don’t qualify for a larger carry-on, check it before or leave it at home. If you get caught not only will you be paying more than a regular economy class fare…it will be embarrassing.
> Read More: Hilarious Ellen DeGeneres Parody of United Basic Economy
Getting an extra fee on top of the bag fee is pretty popular in Europe with all the LCCs (same as forgetting to print a boarding pass and other similar events).
I never bought a basic fare so no idea how exactly are the disclaimers shown, but I imagine they are part of the online check in process?
The quote passenger seemed to be pretty aware he bought a basic fare, so no travel agent booking surprise there really.
You’ve lifted this from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal and haven’t given credit
Yes I did–I linked to it twice in the post. Thanks for reading carefully.
Respectfully, a proper citation should be named, not just linked. Especially when it’s a direct quotation. I’m a fan of your site though!
Though I agree passenger consensus is that airlines and travel agencies need to be “transparent” about the fees, THEY ALREADY ARE. People simply don’ t read the options when they are booking. United’s website has red check marks all over it regarding allowances (or not) for basic economy fares. Pay attention, wake up and stop assuming things – “nobody told me”.
A $50 gate check fee is nothing compares to what A3 (a full service airline) charged me for a supposedly “oversized” carry on at FRA on my way to ATH in late August. I was forced to pay EUR 60 once my rollerboard did not measure up against their sizer, even though it DID pass UA’s sizer in PHX earlier in the day ( I was travelling PHX-IAD-FRA-ATH on UA/LH/A3 on UA issued tix) when gate agents started to scrutinize carry-ons in boarding group 4 as overhead bin space slowly ran out. To add insult to injury, once on board the plane I saw -and took several pics of- several clearly oversized carry-ons allowed on board. How that played out the way it did still irked me to this day.
My friend John got hit up for exactly the same fee flying A3 from FRA-ATH in July.
when will people learn to actually travel lighter with a smaller carry-on bag that doesn’t test the limits of the sizers ?
the only times i EVER check a bag these days is during ski trips – hard to squish all that winter gear into a rollerboard.
The concept of fairness in the airline industry is warped.
Curious, where did you go to law school/what kind did you practice? I’m just starting school and would rather be doing what you’re doing lol
I am completely stumped by this situation. Gas got cheaper. Planes got technologically more advanced. Mean time they got less roomier, because they squeeze more seats into it (sell more tickets and make more money) — prices got a lot higher though. The service got more abysmal, flight attendants ruder, and no more food, unless you pay for it. Most flights don’t even serve a snack. I am old enough to remember when they fed you to kill 3-4 times during a flight, especially on international (Europe and Asia) flights. Not to mention that the entire check-in procedures were so much easier, faster and there was no such thing as body check (thank you, Muslim people, for complete loss of feeling safe on air travel!) Not only… I actually remember coming to airport, buying a ticket and going … straight to the plane! I ain’t kidding nor am I demented. (BTW not that old either). Ok, back to the baggage issues. So, now every kind of restriction is imposed on a regular traveler, who bought the lousy basic economy, not that it’s pennies, and someone here suggested to “travel lighter”. Ok, he is a guy, who needs only a toothbrush, change of briefs and a phone. Unfortunately most of us can’t do with such a minimal ammo. And not everyone can buy an entire new wardrobe and everything else at the place of destination! So stick your advice to where the sun don’t shine. I have a problem with these constant limitations and prices going up and up and up, while the quality of the service doesn’t go up at all. I travel every year. My baggage fee was $30 per bag in recent years. I dutifully paid it. Where did this extra “gate” fee come from all of a sudden?