Airline Trick | Basic Economy To Hawaii Is A Ruse

Exposed: Hidden Airline Hoax of Hawaii Basic Economy

Basic economy to Hawaii is a “Ruse: an action intended to deceive someone; a trick.” — Oxford Dictionary. We’ll tell you why that is in today’s post. If you’re still thinking about flying basic economy to Hawaii, read this first.

Basic Economy was Delta Airlines’ innovation and launched seven years ago. Airlines each have their own name for it, but with these fares, you get very limited service, a teaser price, and some surprises you likely hadn’t counted on. These fares have more in common than differences.

Basic economy appears as the very cheapest fares advertised which helps the airlines in Google Search. They are hard to pass up, and many people end up buying them without understanding what’s not included. Examples of these basic economy fares are the Hawaii deals priced from $84 each way from yesterday.

Let’s review what basic economy to Hawaii is all about, and the controversy surrounding it, to help you decide if it’s right for you or not.

The difference between basic economy and regular economy, was once (and occasionally still) as low as $20, has skyrocketed to as much as $60.

Pros and Cons to Basic Economy from Two Readers

“Airlines raising their “main” airfares to an additional $60 from basic is outrageous, in some cases a 50% premium for the “perks” that used to be included with the price of an airline ticket. Airlines are using the ploy that makes it difficult for consumers to identify the true cost of a ticket…the headline or the post says $84 tickets. We have to go through the booking process to find out that the cost for the “main” ticket has actually increased rather than decreased. Time for Congress to stop this deception.”

Linda, from San Diego.

“I’ve flown to Hawaii many times almost always with Hawaiian using Basic Economy. In every case I’ve been with my partner, and every time we’ve been able to sit together. We’ve also never experienced an issue with stowing our carry on bags. We’ve often been seated near the back, but often a window seat was included. Just imagine the scenario where no one chooses Basic Economy? Then what? There would always be issues with no overhead space for carry on bags and up to 20% of passengers would be sitting In middle row seats anyways and groups of two or more might not be sitting next to each other. I’m all for basic economy. I check in right at the 24 hour mark. And if I have seating issues I’ll have a friendly chat with the gate agent.

Commenter, Anthony.

It’s been five years since Congress said this has to stop. But it still hasn’t.

“While the airlines have presented Basic Economy as a lower-cost alternative, it appears that these fares may not actually be lower than the fares airlines offered before Basic Economy. In other words, consumers are now forced to pay the same price for a stripped-down product – or pay more to receive basic benefits that were previously included for the same price. Furthermore, the airlines are using Basic Economy to upsell consumers to regular economy fares. According to American, Delta, and United, when faced with the restrictions and fees associated with Basic Economy fares, at least 50% of consumers will opt to pay more to avoid them.”

US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, 2018.

Monkey see, monkey do airline mimicry.

With all but one airline playing the basic economy game, it’s hard for the others to not use this most powerful marketing weapon of lowest price point. Those airlines include Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, and United to Hawaii. The only airline that doesn’t offer basic economy is Southwest.

Basic economy can save you up to $60 each way. So what’s the catch?

The answer is in this question: “why do airlines have basic economy to Hawaii? Read on for some fascinating thoughts you may not have considered.

Basic economy was created to get your attention and then repulse you.

While basic economy fares continue to catch our attention (ours too!) and thus are very popular, they have severe limitations designed in part to turn off passengers to the very fares they are about to purchase.

So who is basic economy good for? In a word, the airlines. Here’s why.

1. Get to the top of flight searches. 

One of the main reasons the airlines use basic economy is to have the very cheapest Hawaii airfare show in search results, whether on the airline’s website, an OTA (Expedia), or in Google Flights search.

2. Start with a poor boarding experience in most cases.

Unless you’re traveling very light to Hawaii, which isn’t normally the case, some of the airlines still let you board with a full-size carry-on. But not all! Even when they do allow it, the problem is that the airlines may not have enough room when your last boarding group is let on the plane. That can create a problem, wherein airlines may then gate check your bag, hopefully.

3. Another intentionally created us vs. them situation.

All economy isn’t created equal. And those who pay anything more than the lowest price, in one way or another, are treated significantly better. Passengers who pay for a higher class of economy, or are frequent flyers, don’t have to fret and scramble just to get themselves and their belongings on a flight to Hawaii.

4. Airline bait and switch.

Airlines are betting that once you experience basic economy, or hopefully even in the purchase process, you’ll instead choose one of the higher fares on your next Hawaii vacation. Does it work? We’d say it does, and quite well.

5. To the Senate’s point.

Basic economy is the airlines way to get consumers pay the same price for “a stripped-down product.” The point is to we need to pay more in order to obtain the basic economy fare offerings that were included before this invention.

Basic economy to Hawaii is only good under very limited circumstances.

  • You are traveling alone or not concerned about necessarily sitting with a travel companion.
  • You are okay storing your carry-on under the seat in front of you. On United, that is all the space you’ll get.
  • You don’t care where you sit, including in a middle seat at the very back of the plane.

Reviewing basic economy to Hawaii on five airlines.

Basic economy to Hawaii. Is it for you?

Below is updated details on what you can expect when flying Basic Economy on the airlines traveling between the US mainland and Hawaii. Most of the cheapest flights to Hawaii are now in this class of service. Airlines won’t offer basic economy on some routes, so you need to check carefully to see what you are actually buying.

In addition to the specifics below, check if you are trying to accrue frequent flyer points, as how each airline handles that on basic economy fares will vary. Also, these rules can change frequently.

Alaska Airlines basic economy to Hawaii.

Alaska was late to the party with its “Saver fares.” With Alaska’s basic economy, you still get a free, full-sized carry-on. Advanced seat selection is not included and when assigned by the airline, will most likely be in the back of the plane. Perhaps even in a dreaded center seat. There’s no guarantee that parties of 2 or more will sit together although they will try. You will also be boarding last so good luck finding a place for a full-sized carry-on. Tickets are non-changeable and non-cancellable after the first 24 hours. Fee-based upgrades are permitted. Service on-board is otherwise identical to regular economy. Several limitations on Saver fares relate to seat selection, changes, and refunds, as seen on Alaska’s website.

American Airlines basic economy to Hawaii.

American Airlines basic economy does not offer seat selection. Those are assigned at check-in (24 hours before the flight). If you wish to pay extra, however, you may be able to snag a seat assignment up to 48 hours before a flight. A free, full-sized carry-on is permitted, although since you’ll be boarding last, finding a space could be a problem. AA frequent fliers may be eligible for upgrades, while others are not. Same-day changes may be possible for a fee, but there are no other changes or cancellations after 24 hours. Service on-board is otherwise identical to regular economy.

Delta Airlines basic economy to Hawaii.

Regarding Delta basic economy, the company says, “Basic Economy is best for those traveling by themselves with firm travel plans.” Delta basic economy provides seat assignment selection at 24 hour check-in. There are no changes, cancellations, or upgrades permitted, and you do not accrue frequent flyer miles. Free full-sized carry-on and a personal item are included, but will there be room for yours? Service on-board is otherwise identical to regular economy.

Hawaiian Airlines basic economy to Hawaii.

Main Cabin Basic” economy at Hawaii’s bellwether airline includes no advance seat assignment. Available seats can be self-assigned at 24-hour check-in or will be assigned at the gate. “We cannot guarantee that your family will be able to sit together. If it’s important for you to have all family members sit together, we recommend that you select another fare option with less restrictions.”

A free carry-on bag and one personal item are included with the same caveat about finding room. HawaiianMiles members continue to earn one mile per mile flown. Free meals, beverages, and snacks. Free in-flight entertainment. No upgrades, changes or cancellations (after 24 hours) are possible.

Southwest Airlines has no basic economy to Hawaii.

Southwest does not have a basic economy offering and has made it clear that it is not likely to either. However, Southwest previously revealed through a customer survey that it was at least contemplating some form of new lower-end product, although nothing has appeared. All Southwest airfares include two free checked bags, a full-size carry-on, and a personal item. Your boarding priority will determine boarding order and finding adequate space for your carryons. Southwest charges up to $80 for early boarding to Hawaii. Be sure to check in exactly 24 hours before the flight and not five or ten minutes later.

United Airlines basic economy to Hawaii.

With United Airlines basic economy, a seat assignment is provided 24 hours before the flight. Service on-board is otherwise identical to regular economy. You will board last, and use of overhead storage is available for an additional $25 fee.” Otherwise, only under-seat storage is permitted, no full-sized carry-on. Premier members, however, are entitled to a standard carry-on even on basic economy fares.” There are no changes, cancellations or upgrades permitted, and frequent fliers won’t accrue credit toward premier status.

Which basic economy to Hawaii is the best?

1. The winner is Southwest Airlines. Why? Because no basic economy is still the best basic economy. That makes Southwest the obvious winner in this category.

2. After that, there’s honestly not much in the way of differentiation. We’d give Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian a tie for the next best basic economy, albeit far worse than the winner. Each offers arguably varying degrees of better service than the three legacy airlines.

Which basic economy to Hawaii is the worst?

Clearly that’s United Airlines, which does not allow a full-size carry-on for basic economy passengers.

Please share your feedback for the airlines about basic economy to Hawaii.

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11 thoughts on “Exposed: Hidden Airline Hoax of Hawaii Basic Economy”

    1. Joshua,

      I agree it should probably go away for long flights. However, for short (2 hours or less) with a quick turn-around, basic is okay. Some folks are going and returning in short order, so for that it’s fine. Also, some folks, many folks are financially strapped, so $20, or $50 will make a big difference.

      I’m more upset by hotels adding a resort fee when they are just simple hotels. And, quoting a rate that doesn’t include the full cost.

  1. I agree with BOH – I think the basic economy is a marketing ploy to get you to book something more expensive, once you see what you’re not getting. It gets you to look at the website. Being able to secure a good seat assignment (aisles!!) is a high priority for me for flying anywhere, but especially for a 5-6 hour flight to Hawaii. We check a bag but always bring a roller-bag with our most important things and clothes/swim suit for the first 24-48 hours in case our checked bag is lost. Wouldn’t want to give up that overhead space. Everything about air travel has gotten worse, IMHO. Thanks for the great article.

  2. I usually fly. Southwest to Hawaii but have no problem with Basic Economy on American or Hawaiian because I have their credit cards and can check a bag for free. Seat selection has never been a problem. The food on Hawaiian these days is so bad—and I’m not usually picky—that it’s not a factor. Getting to Hawaii!!! at the cheapest fare is my goal.

  3. While Southwest comes up the winner for lower costs, my experience flying between OGG and PDX has been that they change scheduling. Each time I or my family has flown SW there’s been an additional layover time.
    Dollar wise they’re cheaper than HA or Alaskan but I’ll pay for the printed(and mostly promised) schedule every time

  4. I have never and never will fly basic economy. However, I could see some using it on short flights of an hour or two with same-day return.

  5. I’ve been checking LGB/HNL/LGB flights on HA and have found three different fares: Main Cabin Basic, Main Cabin and Main Cabin Refundable (all with no explanations of what are or what are not included in these fares). Based on the three fare codes, the following are prices (in the above order) for travel 2/9-18:
    The fare from Main Cabin Basic to Main Cabin has gone up $20 – from $80 to $100! And when did Main Cabin Refundable pop up?

  6. Wow! We will be flying to Hawaii for a wedding in June and will start the airline search once date/location are firmed up by the wedding party. It sounds like sorting through all the details in order to make an informed carrier decision will have all the joy of a root canal.

    At least Southwest does not play smoke and mirrors with you. It seems there is far less risk of feeling you have been taken by the fine print or fancy semantics or hidden fees.

    Thanks for the deep dive for those of us who fall into the “occasional island flyer” category. Being informed will help us a lot. Cheers!

    1. Hi Peter.

      Thanks. Good to hear from you again. Have a great time. Agree on Southwest; that the issues with flying them are different at least.


    2. Book Southwest and keep checking for fare reductions. For my trip at the end of November, the fare has gone down twice in the last month. You can also change dates and times.

  7. every ticket – next to the seat assignment – should show a bin number
    on the airplane the bins should have numbers
    easy to verify if someone has put their luggage where it doesn’t belong!

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