Delta knows you don't like its basic economy fares, and calls that success

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Delta Air Lines is aware that most people don't like its basic economy fares, and says that's the "success of that product."

Atlanta-based Delta first launched basic economy fares in 2012. The bare-bones fares do not allow advance seat assignments or any changes to the itinerary, even for a change fee. Regular economy seats in the main cabin often cost extra -- and Delta aims to upsell passengers to those higher-priced fares.

Delta president Glen Hauenstein told investors on an earnings conference call this week that "the key part to that is that people don't really want the de-contented product when they see exactly what it is."

He added that "the success of that product isn't how many people buy it, in our mind, but how many people don't buy it and choose another product, and that's really where we're focused."

When travelers book flights on Delta's website, if they choose the lowest fare and it's basic economy, a pop-up alert warns them: "You have selected a basic economy fare," showing the basic economy fare and the main cabin fare, with a checklist showing the features not included in the basic economy fare.

The choices are "accept restrictions" or "move to main cabin."

Basic economy is "more of a defensive product... because we need to have a product for people who are just price-conscious," Hauenstein said. That's because Delta competes with ultra low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier that offer lower fares with fewer perks.

Delta has fully rolled out basic economy on its domestic flights and is adding it to its Latin American flights, with plans to expand it worldwide by the end of next year.

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Delta aims to bring in more cash from extras Delta Air Lines president Glen Hauenstein says many people don't want to book basic economy fares, and that's just fine.