Delta Basic Economy vs. Main Cabin: What Are the Differences?

Economy Class seating onboard a Delta Air Lines Boeing 747-400

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If you’re trying to decide between Delta’s Basic Economy and Main Cabin fares for your next flight, here’s the bottom line: Basic Economy is cheaper but comes with many restrictions and fewer amenities. Main Cabin costs more, but offers added flexibility and perks. This article dives into the specifics of each, helping you make an informed choice on your next Delta flight.

Key Takeaways

  • Basic Economy is the budget-friendly option but limits your ability to select seats, change or cancel tickets, and earn miles.
  • Main Cabin offers more flexibility in seat selection, ticket changes/cancellations, and the potential for upgrades.

Delta Basic Economy Vs. Main Cabin

Choosing between Basic Economy and Main Cabin is all about what you value most. Is it the cost? Is it the ability to select your seat in advance? We’ll dig into all these aspects to help you decide.

Here’s a quick table summarizing the key differences:

FeatureBasic EconomyMain Cabin
BaggageOne carry-on and one personal item. No free checked bags.Same as Basic Economy.
Standby and Ticket ChangesNon-refundable and non-changeable. Some international exceptions for a fee.No fee for changes or cancellations. Elite members can do standby and same-day changes for free.
BoardingBoards last unless you have SkyMiles Medallion status or a Delta co-branded credit card.Boards after premium classes and Sky Priority but before Basic Economy.
Seat SelectionNo advance selection. Only at check-in or at the gate.Can choose any economy seat in advance for free, with the exception of Comfort+.
UpgradesNot eligible for any upgrades.Eligible for paid or complimentary upgrades to premium seats, subject to availability.
RebookingLower priority; rebooked after Main Cabin passengers.Higher priority than Basic Economy for rebooking.
Earning Miles and Status CreditDoes not earn SkyMiles, Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), Dollars (MQDs), or Segments (MQSs).Earns SkyMiles, Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), Dollars (MQDs) and Segments (MQSs).

Understanding Delta Basic Economy

Basic Economy is Delta’s budget fare class. It’s designed for travelers who want to get from point A to point B at the lowest possible price. Basic Economy covers the essentials: a seat on the plane and the ability to bring along a small carry-on. Beyond that, the bells and whistles are pretty limited. Let’s go through the details.


When you book a Basic Economy ticket, you’re allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item (like a purse or laptop bag) for free. However, you can’t check any bags for free; you’ll have to pay extra for that.

You also board last, which often means the overhead bins might be full by the time you get on. You may be forced to check your carry-on at the gate, sometimes for a fee. So, if you’re on a Basic Economy fare, pack light and be prepared.

Standby and Ticket Changes

Basic Economy tickets are set in stone—no changes, no refunds. There are some exceptions for international flights, where you might be able to make changes for a fee. But generally, once you buy, you’re committed.

Delta does offer a 24-hour risk-free cancellation window for eligible tickets, but that’s about as flexible as it gets with Basic Economy. And don’t count on same-day confirmed or standby travel changes; you’re not eligible for those.


As a Basic Economy passenger, you’ll usually be in the last boarding group. The only way around this is if you have SkyMiles Medallion status or a Delta co-branded credit card that gives you priority boarding. Delta has different boarding zones and groups based on ticket type and status. Basic Economy is at the bottom of the list.

Priority boarding is a nice perk, letting you settle into your seat and stow your carry-on without feeling rushed. But unless you’ve got the status or the right credit card, don’t count on it with Basic Economy.

Seat Selection

You won’t get to pick your seat in advance with Basic Economy. Your seat will be assigned either at check-in or at the gate. This often means getting whatever seats are left—middle seats, back of the plane, you name it.

Basic Economy is a risky choice if you’re flying with family or friends and want to ensure you sit together. In such cases, it’s worth splurging on Main Cabin tickets, where you can select your seats when you book.


Dreaming of stretching your legs in premium seats? Keep dreaming if you’re on a Basic Economy fare. You’re not eligible for any paid or complimentary upgrades, including Delta Comfort+, Preferred Seats, or First Class.

These premium options offer more legroom, better in-flight amenities, and sometimes even meals. They do come at a cost, but if you’re flying Main Cabin, you at least have the option to upgrade.


If something goes awry with your flight, like a cancellation or significant delay, Basic Economy passengers are generally the last to be re-accommodated on other flights. Main Cabin ticket holders, especially those with elite status, will be first in line to get alternative arrangements.

Earning Miles and Status Credit

If you’re a frequent flyer looking to accumulate SkyMiles or reach Medallion status, Basic Economy is not your friend. These tickets don’t earn any SkyMiles, Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs), or Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs). So, if you’re in it for the long haul, consider Main Cabin or higher fare classes.

Understanding Delta Main Cabin

Moving up the ladder from Basic Economy, we have Delta’s Main Cabin fare. This is Delta’s standard economy class but with many benefits that make your journey more pleasant. Whether seat selection or earning loyalty points, Main Cabin offers a much more flexible and comfortable flying experience. Let’s explore what’s in store for you.

A passenger checks his baggage at the Delta Air Lines check-in desk in Portland International Airport.
A passenger checks his baggage at the Delta Air Lines check-in desk in Portland International Airport.


Just like in Basic Economy, Main Cabin passengers are allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item for free and must pay for any checked bags.

If you’re a SkyMiles Medallion member or have a Delta co-branded credit card, you can avoid or reduce baggage fees. Some credit cards offer one free checked bag as a part of their benefits, so it’s worth checking your card’s features.

Standby and Ticket Changes

One of the best parts about flying Main Cabin is its flexibility. You can change or cancel your ticket before departure without any fees, making it ideal for those with plans that may shift.

If you’re an elite member, you can stand by for other flights at no charge or do same-day changes for free within your elite tier rules. Even if you aren’t an elite member, you only pay the applicable fee for changes.


When it comes to boarding, Main Cabin passengers have it better than Basic Economy folks but will still board after First Class, Delta One, Premium Select, Delta Comfort+, Sky Priority, and SkyMiles Medallion members. However, you’ll be ahead of Basic Economy passengers.

Boarding zones and groups for Delta flights are based on your ticket type, your SkyMiles status, and other factors. To get priority boarding, you can aim to get SkyMiles Medallion status or get a co-branded credit card that offers this perk.

Seat Selection

Another perk of Main Cabin is the ability to select your seat in advance for free, subject to availability. Note that this doesn’t include Comfort+ seats, which are a different fare class altogether.

You can choose from a range of seat types, like window, aisle, exit row, or bulkhead seats. This is a big deal if you’re traveling with family or friends and want to ensure you all sit together.

Related: Delta Comfort Plus vs. Main Cabin: A Comprehensive Comparison


Here’s where things get exciting. Main Cabin passengers are eligible for paid or complimentary upgrades to premium seats, like Delta Comfort+, Preferred Seats, First Class, or even Delta One, subject to availability.

  • Elite members can be listed for complimentary upgrades.
  • You can pay a little extra and upgrade to Comfort+.
  • You can use a regional or global upgrade on longer flights, but this will only bump you up to Premium Select.
  • You also have the option to pay the fare difference and move up to First Class.

Related: Delta Comfort Plus vs. First Class: A Comprehensive Comparison


If your flight gets delayed or canceled, as a Main Cabin passenger, you’re in a better position than Basic Economy customers. You’ll receive priority for seats on other flights and will be rebooked more quickly.

Earning Miles and Status Credit

Last but not least, Main Cabin flights will earn you SkyMiles along with Medallion Qualifying Dollars, Segments, and Miles. So, if you travel frequently and want to reap the rewards of a loyalty program, Main Cabin is the way to go.

Bottom Line

Basic Economy is the no-frills, budget-friendly option. You’ll get from point A to B, but extras like choosing your seat or changing your ticket are off the table. It’s what you go for when cost is your main concern.

Main Cabin, on the other hand, offers a more complete package. You can pick your seat, change your ticket without a fee, and you even have the possibility of getting upgraded. It’s a more flexible and comfortable option, particularly if you travel frequently or are on a longer journey.

Making The Choice

The trade-offs are pretty clear. With Basic Economy, you save money but sacrifice convenience and flexibility. In Main Cabin, you pay a bit more but get a series of perks to make your journey smoother.

  • If you’re a solo traveler on a quick trip, Basic Economy might be all you need.
  • On the other hand, if you’re traveling with family or on business, Main Cabin offers the conveniences you’d likely prefer.

Tips and Recommendations

To maximize your Delta experience, consider the following:

  1. Sign Up for SkyMiles: Whether you’re in Basic Economy or Main Cabin, Delta’s SkyMiles program can offer future perks.
  2. Consider a Co-Branded Credit Card: This can give you benefits like free checked bags or priority boarding.
  3. Always Check Baggage Fees: Sometimes, the money you save on a Basic Economy ticket can be offset by baggage fees, especially if you have to check a bag.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between Basic Economy and Main Cabin on Delta?

Basic Economy is Delta’s most budget-friendly fare, with no ability to pick seats and a strict no-refund policy. Main Cabin offers more flexibility, including the ability to pick your seat and change or cancel for no fee.

Can I bring a carry-on bag with Basic Economy on Delta?

Yes, Basic Economy allows one carry-on bag and one personal item for free. However, since you board last, overhead bin space might be limited.

Does Delta Basic Economy guarantee a seat?

Yes, but you won’t be able to select your seat until check-in or at the gate. You might end up with a middle seat or seats away from your travel companions.

Can I change or cancel my Basic Economy ticket on Delta?

Generally, no. Basic Economy tickets are non-refundable and non-changeable, except in some international markets where changes are allowed for a fee.

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Joe Morelli

Joe Morelli, an avid travel enthusiast and founder of Modern Miles, has mastered the art of earning and redeeming millions of points and miles annually. Accompanied by his wife and two children, he explores the world's wonders, inspiring others with his expertise and unquenchable thirst for adventure.

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