United Airlines: Basic Economy vs. Economy vs. Economy Plus

united airlines economy cabin 777

Modern Miles may receive a commision from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. See our Advertiser Disclosure for more information.

Navigating the differences between Basic Economy, Economy, and Economy Plus classes on United Airlines can be challenging. Each fare class offers distinct features in price, seat selection, baggage allowance, legroom, and more. This article dissects these three fare options, providing a clear, concise comparison to help you make an informed decision for your next trip. In essence:

  • Basic Economy is cost-effective but has restrictions—no seat selection, no free carry-on bag, later boarding, and no ticket changes.
  • Economy offers balance. With more control, including seat selection, a free carry-on bag, and flexible ticket changes, you pay a bit more.
  • Economy Plus delivers extra comfort. With increased costs, you gain more legroom, better access to overhead bins, and occasional extras like seat power outlets.

This straightforward guide provides practical information and advice tailored to your travel needs and budget. Let’s dive in to understand these three fare classes better.

Difference Between United Basic Economy, Economy, and Economy Plus

Basic EconomyEconomyEconomy Plus
PriceLeast expensiveMore expensive than Basic EconomyMost expensive
Seat SelectionNoYesYes
Carry-On BagPersonal item only, unless flying transatlantic or to South AmericaOne full-sized carry-on and one personal itemOne full-sized carry-on and one personal item
Checked BaggagePaidPaidPaid
Boarding GroupLast (group 5) unless qualifying for exceptionsGroups 3-5Groups 3-5
Change & Refund PolicyNot eligible for changes, 24-hour refundNo change fees, refund policies varyNo change fees, refund policies vary
In-Flight AmenitiesSame as standard EconomyStandard amenities, optional Wi-Fi, entertainment, food, drinks, etc.Same as standard Economy, extra legroom
Upgrade OptionsNot eligibleEligible, using cash or milesEligible, using cash or miles
Benefits for MileagePlus & Premier MembersLimited benefits, no in-flight upgrades or Economy Plus seatsStandard benefits applyStandard benefits apply

Now, let’s take a closer look at the first three fare classes.

United’s Basic Economy is their most budget-friendly fare. It offers a lower price but comes with certain restrictions. For instance, Basic Economy passengers cannot select their seats. Carry-on baggage is also limited to a personal item unless you have elite status with United or hold a qualifying United MileagePlus credit card. Plus, if you’re traveling in a group, United does not guarantee that you’ll be seated together.

Moving a notch higher, we have United Economy. This class offers a bit more flexibility. You’ll be able to select your seat at the time of booking, and you’re allowed one full-sized carry-on bag in addition to a personal item. You also have the option to change or cancel your flight at no fee.

Lastly, there’s Economy Plus, which offers all the benefits of United Economy and a little extra. The highlight of Economy Plus is the additional legroom. Seats in this class are located toward the front of the aircraft, offering up to five extra inches of legroom compared to a standard Economy seat. It’s a comfortable choice for long-haul flights or those who appreciate more space.

Quick Comparison: Basic Economy, Economy, Economy Plus

Basic Economy

  • Pros: Cost-effective and includes standard in-flight amenities.
  • Cons: No seat selection, fees for carry-on bags and seat assignments, less flexibility for changes, and lower priority in case of flight disruptions.


  • Pros: Seat selection, included carry-on bag, flexibility for changes, ability to earn miles, and higher priority than Basic Economy.
  • Cons: More expensive than Basic Economy, potential fees for checked bags, and less legroom than Economy Plus.

Economy Plus

  • Pros: Enhanced comfort due to extra legroom, easier access to facilities, occasional extra power outlets, complimentary drinks on some international flights, and better chances for premium upgrades.
  • Cons: Higher cost, potential fees for checked bags, same in-flight service as Economy, and competition for seat upgrades.

Price Difference

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty – starting with the price. The three fare classes offer varying levels of comfort and convenience; naturally, their prices reflect that.

United’s Basic Economy fare is the least expensive option. However, it comes with the most restrictions. One notable limitation is the lack of seat selection or upgrades. With this fare, United will automatically assign your seat prior to boarding. If you’re traveling with a child under 12, United has new tools to make it easier for your little one to sit next to a family member for free.

united economy price difference

Economy is the next tier and is priced higher than Basic Economy. Despite the added cost, it affords you more privileges, such as seat selection at the time of booking and a full-sized carry-on bag allowance.

Economy Plus, as the name suggests, offers additional benefits over the other two classes. This fare is more expensive than both Basic Economy and Economy. However, for the added cost, you get more legroom and the benefit of being seated toward the front of the plane.

Carry-On Bags & Personal Items

Regarding your carry-on bags and personal items, there are some differences across these fare classes.

You can bring one personal item for all three classes – Basic Economy, Economy, and Economy Plus. This could be a shoulder bag, backpack, or laptop bag that fits under the seat in front of you.

If you book Basic Economy, your carry-on baggage is limited to just that personal item. However, there are exceptions if you’re flying to South America, across the Atlantic or Pacific – in these cases, carry-on bags are included. Otherwise, you can prepay to check a carry-on bag. If you check a carry-on at the gate, you’ll be charged the standard bag fee plus an additional $25.

Economy and Economy Plus passengers are permitted one full-sized carry-on bag and one personal item for free.

The dimensions for a United personal item must be no larger than 10 in. x 17 in. x 9 in., while a carry-on bag must be no larger than 14 in. x 22 in. x 9 in.

Checked Baggage

Regarding checked bags, all economy fares are subject to additional fees.

For flights within the U.S., Central America, and the Caribbean, you’ll pay $35 for your first bag and $45 for a second bag.

For international flights outside of North America and Latin America, United Airlines’ baggage policy is more complex:

  • If you’re flying to/from South America in economy class, you’ll receive at least one free checked bag. Expect to pay between $55 to $75 for a second bag.
  • Those traveling to Europe in economy also receive at least one free checked bag. However, a second bag will cost up to $100.
  • For those traveling to Asia in any economy fare, you can generally expect to check two bags for free.

Also, if you own any of the annual fee United credit cards, such as the United Explorer card, or hold elite United Premier status, you’ll be allowed a free checked bag. This can be a great way to save on additional luggage costs.

Seat Selection

Seat selection is another point of differentiation among these fare classes.

united economy seat selection

In Basic Economy, seat selection or upgrades are not permitted. United will automatically assign a seat to you before boarding. However, if you’re traveling with a child under 12, United will generally allow your child to sit next to a family member at no extra cost.

In Economy and Economy Plus, you can choose your seats at the time of booking without any additional charge. This can provide peace of mind for travelers who prefer window or aisle seats. Additionally, Economy Plus seats are located closer to the front of the plane, so you can be among the first to disembark.

Boarding Group

Boarding groups determine when you will be able to board the plane.

Basic Economy passengers are typically placed in the last group (Group 5) for boarding. There are exceptions if you’re a United credit card holder with an annual fee or a MileagePlus Premier member. For the latter, Global Services and 1K members board during “pre-boarding,” after customers with disabilities and active military members. Platinum and Gold members board in Group 1, while Premier Silver members board in Group 2.

Passengers in Economy and Economy Plus usually board in groups 3 through 5.

Changes & Refund Policies

For Basic Economy, tickets are generally not eligible for changes. However, if you book your ticket one week or more before your original scheduled departure flight, you can get a full refund within 24 hours of booking.

For Economy and Economy Plus fares, United has permanently scrapped change fees following the Covid-19 pandemic. There’s no charge to change your flight for routes within the U.S. or between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean. The same applies to international travel originating in the U.S. However, if there is a fare difference, you will have to pay it. If you don’t choose a new flight immediately, you will receive a flight credit valid for one year from your original ticket issue date.

When it comes to refunds, if you book a fully refundable economy ticket, you can cancel within 24 hours of booking and receive a full refund to your original payment method. If you have a non-refundable ticket, you can still cancel your ticket and receive a full refund after 24 hours from booking, but this will be in the form of a flight credit for future travel with United.

For those who book an award seat using points, the points are fully refundable without any fees. This is a great advantage for those who frequently use points to book their flights.

In-Flight Amenities

While the price and amenities offered pre-flight differ significantly across fare classes, it’s worth noting that the in-flight experience for Basic Economy and Economy passengers will be largely similar. Regardless of your fare, you can still enjoy features like in-flight Wi-Fi, entertainment, and the opportunity to purchase food and drinks. So, even if you opt for the more budget-friendly Basic Economy, you won’t have to miss out on these services.

Benefits for MileagePlus and Premier Members

Even when traveling on Basic Economy tickets, Premier and MileagePlus members can still enjoy some of the benefits they’ve earned. Perks such as priority boarding and complimentary checked bags are still available. However, Basic Economy ticket holders aren’t eligible for in-flight upgrades or complimentary Economy Plus seating.

Furthermore, while MileagePlus and Premier members will not earn any Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) with Basic Economy tickets, they can still earn these if they purchase preferred or Economy Plus seats.

MileagePlus members do earn award miles for Basic Economy tickets, but these will accumulate at 50% of the rate of a standard economy ticket. They will also accrue Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) and lifetime miles and count towards the four-segment minimum requirement for status.


With Basic Economy, passengers aren’t eligible for upgrades. This means you’re locked into your initial booking conditions without the possibility of accessing more premium features.

However, if you have booked Economy or Economy Plus fares, you can upgrade using cash or miles after booking your original ticket.

What is United Economy Preferred Seating?

United Economy Preferred Seating is a fare option that offers passengers seats closer to the front of the plane or specific window and aisle seats within the Economy cabin.

To get Economy Preferred Seating, you can choose these seats at the time of booking or before check-in by paying an additional fee. This fee varies based on the specific route and flight.

Note that while this fare offers the advantage of being seated closer to the front of the plane, it doesn’t necessarily come with extra legroom or any other perks associated with Economy Plus.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is United economy the same as basic economy?

No, United Economy and Basic Economy are not the same. Basic Economy is a budget fare with more restrictions (e.g., no seat selection, no carry-on, last to board), while Economy provides more flexibility and perks, such as a free carry-on bag and seat selection at the time of booking.

Does United basic economy allow a carry-on bag?

If you’re flying basic economy domestically or on short-haul international routes, you’re allowed only one personal item that fits under the seat in front of you. You won’t be able to bring a larger carry-on bag unless you’re flying transatlantic to South America or are a MileagePlus Premier member or primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card.

Does United economy include seat selection?

Yes, when you book a United Economy ticket, you can choose your seat for free at the time of booking.

Do I get a checked bag with United basic economy?

No, a checked bag is not included with a Basic Economy ticket for flights within the U.S., Central America, and the Caribbean. Checked baggage comes with an additional fee. However, one checked bag is included for transatlantic flights and flights to/from South America.

Does United Basic Economy include food?

On flights where meal service is usually provided, Basic Economy passengers will still receive the same meal service as standard Economy passengers. However, food is available for purchase on shorter flights where meals are not typically offered.

Is upgrading to Economy Plus worth it?

Upgrading to Economy Plus can be worth it if you value the extra legroom, easier access to overhead bins, and priority boarding. However, it comes at a higher cost than standard Economy, so whether it’s worth it depends on your individual needs and preferences.

Are basic economy fares available on all United flights?

Basic Economy fares are available on most United and United Express-operated flights within the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. They’re also available on some transatlantic flights. However, availability can depend on the specific route and date of travel.

Can you change a United Basic Economy fare?

Basic Economy fares are not eligible for changes or refunds after the 24-hour risk-free cancellation period. If you think your travel plans might change, you might want to consider booking a standard Economy fare instead.

Bottom Line

Choosing between United Airlines’ Basic Economy, Economy, and Economy Plus ultimately hinges on your needs, priorities, and budget.

Basic Economy is a practical choice for the budget-conscious traveler who can compromise on flexibility and added extras. If you desire more control over your travel experience and are willing to pay a little extra, Economy provides added conveniences, such as seat selection and a free carry-on bag. For those who prioritize comfort and are comfortable paying a premium, Economy Plus offers additional legroom and early boarding.

Ultimately, your flight selection should align with your travel expectations and desired level of comfort. Consider the trade-offs and make a choice that best fits your needs.

Photo of author

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.

Related Posts

None found