How to Get Around Some of Delta’s Basic Economy Restrictions

Basic Economy can be an affordable way to fly Delta, but you'll want to check out some ways to get around its many restrictions.

Delta Basic Economy Restrictions
Updated May 14, 2024
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When you're looking for a budget flight on Delta Air Lines, chances are good you'll choose to fly Basic Economy. This class of airfare comes at the lowest price, but you’ll have to make some trade-offs for these seats, including accepting many restrictions that affect your travel experience.

Thankfully, it’s possible to fly Delta Basic Economy to make your trip affordable while still finding ways around some of the limitations that come with these cheap tickets. You just need to know the right approach, such as joining Delta's loyalty club or getting one of the Delta credit cards that offers perks.

This guide will help you understand more about what it means to get a basic economy ticket and provide you with some tips on how you can improve your flying experience, even when you're opting for tickets at a budget price.

In this article

What is Basic Economy on Delta Airlines?

When you fly on most airlines, there are different classes of seats. Even within the main cabin, there may be different fare classes, each with its own perks, benefits, and limitations.

On Delta, Basic Economy is its most budget-friendly fare class. While you still get a seat in the main cabin, you give up some amenities when you fly on Basic Economy.

You still get a complimentary snack and a non-alcoholic beverage at no cost, and you can still watch movies and shows if your flight offers in-flight entertainment. You even get a complimentary carry-on bag, although that bag may be gate-checked if space is limited.

But amenities you aren’t eligible for include:

  • A free checked bag: You'll have to pay to check your luggage; Delta baggage fees vary depending on the weight of your bag and your destination, but are typically around $35 for your first bag.
  • A seat assignment in advance: You'll have your seat assigned to you after you check in, and you don't get to pick where you sit unless you pay extra in advance.
  • The opportunity to change your ticket: You're not permitted to upgrade your ticket or make other changes after you book. You also aren't entitled to a refund if you need to cancel after an initial 24-hour risk-free cancellation period
  • The ability to pay for Priority Boarding: You can't get onto your flight early by paying for Priority Boarding if you've bought a Basic Economy ticket.

It is still possible to accrue Delta miles when you fly Basic Economy, though, so at least your inexpensive ticket can help you to potentially earn free trips or other upgrades in the future.

How to make Delta Basic Economy seats suck less

While Basic Economy comes with lots of restrictions, some of them can be avoided if you employ smart strategies. See which of these options, if any, are right for you.

Become a Delta Medallion Elite member or a SkyTeam Elite Member

Delta Medallion Elite and SkyTeam Elite members can get special perks that make flying Basic Economy a better experience. These include:

  • Priority check-in
  • Priority boarding
  • Waived fees for checked bags

Despite your Elite status, however, you aren't eligible to make changes to a Basic Economy ticket, and you’re not eligible for paid or complimentary upgrades to Preferred Seats even with Medallion or SkyTeam status.

You can become a Delta Medallion member by joining the Delta SkyMiles program and by fulfilling certain requirements to earn Medallion Status. You could even match your status from another airline if you’re eligible.

Delta measures your “loyalty” based on how much you fly and how much you spend. To measure how much you spend, Delta created an acronym: Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs). MQDs are based on the base fare and any carrier-imposed surcharges. Government-imposed taxes and fees are not included in the MQD calculation. 

The following chart explains the requirements for each status level. To achieve each level, you must meet the miles or segments requirement as well as the dollars spent requirement.

Status level MQDs required to qualify
General None
Silver $5,000 MQDs
Gold $10,000 MQDs
Platinum $15,000 MQDs
Diamond $28,000 MQDs

Get a Delta credit card

If you have a Delta-branded credit card, these are some of the best airline credit cards for frequent Delta flyers. Further, your card may come with perks that could help you sidestep some of Basic Economy’s drawbacks. Though you still won’t be able to select your seats in advance without added fees, you could get the following perks — even in Basic Economy. But, if you don't use Delta often, these may not be the best travel credit cards for you. See all the perks of Delta credit cards here.

Card Basic Economy perks Other Delta perks Annual fee
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
  • One free checked bag on Delta Flights
  • Main Cabin Priority Boarding on Delta Flights
  • Earn 2X miles on qualifying Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S supermarkets; and 1X miles per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases
  • 20% savings on in-flight purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year, $150 per year thereafter (Terms apply)
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
  • One free checked bag on Delta flights
  • Main Cabin Priority Boarding on Delta flights
  • Earn 3X miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta and at hotels; 2X miles per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets; and 1X miles for every dollar spent on all other eligible purchases
  • Companion certificate for a round-trip Main Cabin domestic, Caribbean, or Central American flight when you renew your card
  • 20% savings on in-flight purchases
$350 (Terms apply)
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
  • One free checked bag on Delta flights
  • Main Cabin Priority Boarding on Delta flights
  • Earn 3X miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta and 1X miles for all other eligible purchases
  • Companion certificate for a round-trip First Class, Delta Comfort+(R), or Main Cabin domestic, Caribbean, or Central American flight when you renew your card
  • Enjoy complimentary Delta Sky Club® access and bring up to two guests or immediate family at a rate of $50 per person per visit.
  • 20% savings on in-flight purchases
$650 (Terms apply)

FAQs about Delta Basic Economy

Do you get a carry on with Delta Basic Economy?

When you fly Basic Economy with Delta, you are entitled to a free carry-on bag. However, overhead space is limited and because you board late, you may be unable to find space. If this happens to you, your carry-on could be gate checked at no cost to you.

What is the difference between main cabin and Basic Economy on Delta?

Basic Economy tickets provide the same general experience as other main cabin tickets, including standard reclining seats as well as a sleep kit provided on long-haul flights.

But there are some key differences. For example, main cabin members can pick a seat prior to check-in while Basic Economy flyers cannot. Main cabin members will also board before Basic Economy flyers.

When can you check in to Delta Basic Economy?

Like other tickets, you can check into your flight up to 24 hours in advance. However, you will still be the last to board when you buy a Basic Economy ticket. You will also not be given a seat assignment until after you check in and, if seating is limited, it’s possible you will not be given an assigned seat until you are at the gate shortly before boarding.

Can I change a Delta Basic Economy ticket?

Delta Basic Economy tickets cannot be changed and you are not entitled to a refund if you cancel your ticket after an initial 24-hour risk free period right after you book your ticket. You cannot upgrade your ticket later either, even with SkyMiles Medallion status.

Can you upgrade from Basic Economy on Delta?

You are not eligible for either paid or complimentary upgrades with a Basic Economy ticket on Delta. You are also not permitted to pay for Priority Boarding to get on the plane early. Even Medallion Status won't entitle you to an upgrade or preferred seat.

Basic Economy saves you money — but there are tradeoffs

Basic Economy tickets undeniably provide substantial savings. Plus, you can mitigate some of the downsides, such as no free checked bag, by getting a Delta credit card or becoming a Medallion Member.

Unfortunately, certain limitations of a basic economy ticket — such as an inability to upgrade seats or make changes to your flight — can't be overcome. You'll need to decide if you're willing to accept this in exchange for getting a cheaper ticket when you book your flight.

Great Welcome Offer and Continuing Rewards

4.6

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Current Offer

Earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in purchases in the first 6 months

Annual Fee

$0 intro annual fee for the first year, $150 per year thereafter

Rewards Rate

2X miles on qualifying Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S supermarkets; and 1X miles per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks
Card Details

Author Details

Christy Rakoczy

Christy Rakoczy has a Juris Doctorate from UCLA Law School with a focus in Business Law, and a Certificate in Business Marketing with an English Degree from The University of Rochester. As a full-time personal finance writer, she writes about all things money-related but her special areas of focus are credit cards, personal loans, student loans, mortgages, smart debt payoff strategies, and retirement and Social Security. Her work has been featured by USA Today, MSN Money, CNN Money and more, and you can learn more at her LinkedIn profile.