Travel Tips

Learn: The Difference Between Basic Economy and Main Cabin

Delta Main Cabin
Written by Jeff

The choice between Basic Economy and Main Cabin fares often boils down to what you value most – saving money or enjoying a handful of services and conveniences. If you’re curious what’s the difference between basic economy and main cabin fares, we’re here to help. The following will help you make a well-informed decision between budget travel and even more budget travel. We’ll also go into detail on some unique policies across American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines regarding these fare classes.


Difference Between Basic Economy and Main Cabin

  • Price:
    • Basic Economy fares typically are the more budget-friendly option, often being up to 30% cheaper than Main Cabin fares on the same flight.
    • The price difference between these fare classes varies depending on the airline, route, and demand, with an average markup ranging from $52 to $60 for round-trip fares among some major airlines.
  • Seat Selection:
    • Basic Economy usually entails automatic seat assignments, restricting passengers from choosing their seats unless they pay an extra fee.
    • Conversely, Main Cabin allows seat selection, which is particularly advantageous for families or groups desiring to sit together.
  • Change/Cancellation Policies:
    • Basic Economy fares are stringent, with no options for changes or cancellations after 24 hours of booking, while Main Cabin fares offer more leniency, often allowing changes with no or lower fees.
  • Boarding:
    • Basic Economy passengers typically board last, while Main Cabin passengers are called during earlier boarding groups.
  • Mileage Earning:
    • Mileage earning is usually limited or non-existent in Basic Economy, while Main Cabin allows for standard mileage accumulation, although the specifics vary significantly by airline.
  • Baggage Allowance:
    • Basic Economy often limits passengers to a personal item only, with a more restrictive baggage policy, whereas Main Cabin includes both a personal item and a carry-on, with more generous checked baggage allowances.

Airline Specific Differences

Differences for American Airlines

  • Standby:
    • Unlike many other airlines, American Airlines allows standby for Basic Economy ticket holders, providing a bit of flexibility for travelers with uncertain plans.

Differences for Delta Airlines

  • Mileage Earning:
    • Delta’s Basic Economy fares do not earn SkyMiles or credit toward Medallion elite status, which is a stricter mileage earning restriction compared to other airlines.

Differences for United Airlines

  • Carry-on Baggage:
    • United restricts full-sized carry-ons for its Basic Economy tickets, a more restrictive baggage policy.
  • Online Check-in:
    • Basic Economy ticket holders cannot check in online or via the app unless they pay for a checked bag, a unique check-in restriction.


As long as you know the differences between Basic Economy and Main Cabin fares, especially between major airlines like American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines, will help you make an educated choice based on your individual needs regarding comfort, flexibility, and price. Through this deep dive into fare differences, we hope you can decide between basic economy and main cabin the next time you book.

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