While it’s being reported as if it is brand new, United Airlines has offered a great feature since February to upfare your basic economy ticket instead of forfeiting its value called a “Switch to Economy” upgrade.
Don’t Forfeit Your Cheap Ticket: United Airlines “Switch To Economy” Upgrade
United’s systemwide no-change fee policy does not apply to basic economy tickets, the discount tickets meant to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit. Up until the pandemic, when you bought those tickets, you were locked in: no date or time changes were permitted (they carried a host of other restrictions as well).
During the pandemic, change fees were waived even on basic economy tickets (for tickets issued by April 30, 2021 for domestic travel and July 31, 2021 for international travel), but those restrictions have already returned to domestic tickets.
However, plans do change sometimes and in February, United introduced a “Switch to Economy” upgrade program which allowed passengers to pay a fee in order to upgrade their ticket from basic economy to economy.
The fee will vary based upon the route. You can expect to pay $5.00 more than the cost between basic economy and standard economy class had you purchased the ticket outright. Furthermore, that “upgrade fee” will not count toward the price of your ticket should you book a cheaper fare and collect a residual credit for the difference.
Currently, the option to upgrade from basic economy is limited to domestic tickets and short-haul international flights to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Let’s illustrate with an example. Say you book a basic economy LAX-JFK for $129 instead of $169 for a standard economy class ticket. Now let’s say your travel plans changes and you can no longer travel. Instead of forfeiting the $129, you can pay for a “Switch to Economy” upgrade and make the ticket flexible. Let’s say the upgrade cost is $45, meaning you’ve now paid $174 for the one-way ticket. Your ticket is now flexible and you can change it to what you want, but let’s just say your new ticket is $99. Instead of getting a $75 credit for future travel (the $174 minus the $99) you will instead only receive a voucher for the $30 (the original $129 minus the $99).
Basic Economy Fares Remain Restricted
Keep in mind that although United will let you buy up to regular economy, basic economy tickets remain highly restricted. These fares do not include:
- Complimentary seat assignments
- Premier qualifying credit
- Full-size carry-on items
While such fares may make sense for very budget-conscious travelers who pack light, I find the difference between basic economy and economy to be almost always worth the cost (and that is by design, of course).
Meanwhile, American and Delta basic economy tickets remain use-it-or-lose-it though both carriers allow full-size carry-on items for basic economy passengers.
Basic economy tickets on United Airlines can be saved though a “Switch to Economy” upgrade. In almost all cases, this will make more sense than simply forfeiting your ticket. Hopefully American and Delta will match.
Have you ever purchased a basic economy ticket on United Airlines then purchased a “Switch to Economy” upgrade? What was your experience like?