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

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Basic Economy is the relatively new cheapest airline ticket you can buy, coming with a new set of restrictions that some flyers may not be used to. While Basic Economy seats are located in the same section of the plane as those who purchase traditional, full-fare seats, it’s important to understand the differences behind Main Cabin and Basic Economy tickets.

Let’s compare Basic Economy and Main Cabin when flying on Delta Air Lines, review the benefits of each, and offer things to keep in mind while you go through the ticket purchase process. In many cases, you may want to purchase one ticket type over the other based on how you’d like to travel.

Overview of Delta’s Classes of Service

Delta has several classes of service that are offered on different flights and to different travelers. It’s important to review these class offerings to understand where Basic Economy and traditional Main Cabin fit in.

First Class

First class is offered on all narrow-body jets on routes in the U.S. and to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. On regional jets, these seats are usually laid out in a 1×2 layout and on mainline planes they are set in a 2×2 fashion.

First class comes with priority boarding, dedicated bins to stow bags, complimentary beverages, and on some flights, full meals depending on the route and time of day.

Delta One

Delta One is Delta’s highest cabin of service on long-haul or premium flights. Delta One seats are all flat-bed and are offered on a variety of aircraft types, including 757s, 767s, and 777s to name a few.

These flat-bed seats are offered on most international services to Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Africa, and feature an upgraded meal service on china, lounge access, priority boarding, and more. 

Hot Tip: Want to see what it’s like to fly Delta One? Read Stephen’s review of the Delta One Suites aboard the Airbus A350.

Premium Select

Premium Select is Delta’s variation on Premium Economy, featuring a seat similar to the one in its domestic first class cabin.

These seats are featured on most wide-body aircraft and feature more personal space, seatback televisions, and upgraded meal service. While this cabin is roomier than coach, the service flow is similar to the Main Cabin offering.

Delta Comfort+

Delta Comfort+ is Delta’s extra legroom seating, located in prime areas of the Main Cabin. These could be exit rows or bulkheads or other areas where there is additional room.

These seats come with complimentary alcoholic beverages and light snacks, though continue to be part of the Main Cabin. Elite members can generally select these seats for free or be upgraded to them shortly after booking.

Main Cabin

Main Cabin features the traditional economy seats and is located in the rear of the aircraft. These seats usually feature inflight entertainment (except on regional jets) and are where the majority of customers sit.

For explanatory purposes, Delta uses the same term as American Airlines for its economy class product, so be sure to know which airline you’re looking at when purchasing tickets.

Basic Economy

Basic Economy is a ticket type that allows travelers to sit in the Main Cabin, with limited amenities and seat allocation.

Basic Economy ticket holders will be assigned seats in the Main Cabin within 24 hours of departure, or at check-in, and users will not be able to designate which seat they sit in.

Delta Beverage Service
The level of service is the same in both Main Cabin and Basic Economy. Image Credit: Delta Air Lines

Why Was Basic Economy Introduced?

Basic Economy was created several years ago to appeal to the traveler who is not only price-sensitive, but also one who doesn’t wants to pay for their extra services and add-ons. As many low-cost carriers, such as Frontier or Spirit, continued to win over customers, traditional legacy carriers had to change their business model to win over flyers who were going to other airlines. 

Airlines such as Delta used to include checked bags in their traditional fares. There was no restriction on seating assignments and anyone could upgrade if they had the means. As time passed, travelers realized they did not want to pay for services that they did not utilize, and fare segmentation was born.

Low-cost carriers worldwide began to break apart fares and charge a base rate with additional rates for things such as checked bags, seat assignments, upgrades, and even food.

What Does a Delta Basic Economy Ticket Include?

Delta’s Basic Economy tickets carry several important differences compared to standard Main Cabin tickets, so it’s important to note these restrictions so that you can travel smarter.

Baggage

delta air lines employee tagging checked bag
Delta Basic Economy does not include any free checked bags. Image Credit: Delta Air Lines

If you’re on a Basic Economy fare, you’re allowed to bring on the same amount of baggage as a Main Cabin traveler — a bag that fits under the seat in front of you and then a larger carry-on bag to fit in the overhead bin above your seat.

That said, Basic Economy passengers board last, so there may be limited overhead bin space to store bags — plan ahead and pack light if you’re on a Basic Economy fare.

Hot Tip: If you’re looking for more information about Delta’s baggage policies, explore our guide and learn some tips to cover any baggage expenses.

Standby and Ticket Changes

Basic Economy tickets are the most restrictive ticket option Delta has — there are no changes allowed on these trips under any circumstance. Normally Main Cabin tickets come with a $200 change fee where even with a penalty you can change your ticket’s destination, routing or more.

On a Basic Economy ticket, however, there’s no amount of money you can pay to change your ticket — if you must make a change, you’ll lose the full fare value of your ticket and will essentially start over from scratch.

Basic Economy tickets are also not eligible for same-day standby or same-day changes, even for elite passengers.

The lesson here is to only purchase a Basic Economy ticket if you’re absolutely sure of your travel plans. If you’re not, purchase a standard Main Cabin ticket with the ability to make changes.

Boarding

Basic Economy passengers are the very last passengers to board the aircraft. A Basic Economy passenger can avoid this by either being an elite member or a Delta-branded credit cardholder, which will allow them to board earlier.

Hot Tip: Delta-branded credit cards deliver benefits for Delta flyers, but other credit cards can, too. Our guide to the best credit cards for Delta flyers includes lounge access, priority boarding, and upgrades.

Main Cabin passengers are divided into 3 groups, just prior to Basic Economy. Delta’s boarding zones and order are:

Boarding OrderEligibility
Pre-Boarding
  • Customers needing assistance or additional time to board
  • Active Duty U.S. Military personnel with ID
Delta One
First Class or Delta Premium Select
Early boarding for customers traveling with car seats and strollers
Delta Comfort+
  • Delta Comfort+ customers
Sky Priority
Main Cabin 1
Main Cabin 2
  • Main Cabin customers
Main Cabin 3
  • Main Cabin customers booked in T, X, and V fares
Basic Economy
  • Basic Economy customers (E)

Seat Selection

Basic Economy passengers do not get any choice of seats and are randomly assigned seats at check-in.

For this reason, Basic Economy fares should be avoided by families who may wish to sit together as there’s no guarantee of any sort that you’ll be able to sit together. 

Bottom Line: If you wish to sit next to a particular person, do not purchase a Basic Economy ticket — purchase a Main Cabin ticket, instead.

Upgrades

Unfortunately, Basic Economy passengers cannot upgrade — either via a paid upgrade or as part of elite benefits. For long-haul flights, this could be a major issue.

Several scenarios where you could face this challenge include:

  • Since all Delta Medallions receive complimentary upgrades, there’s always a reason to request the upgrade. However, even if the flight has empty seats you would otherwise be able to upgrade into, you won’t be able to upgrade your Basic Economy ticket.
  • If you’re on a long-haul flight and there is an opportunity to upgrade using miles or a global upgrade, you won’t be able to do so.
  • Passengers typically will receive upgrade offers during the ticketing process and after purchase, usually for a very good price. Even if it only may cost a few dollars more to upgrade, a Basic Economy passenger won’t be able to do so.
Delta Air Lines First Class dining
Unfortunately, you cannot upgrade to first class from a Basic Economy fare. Image Credit: Delta Air Lines

Rebooking

When you book a Basic Economy ticket, you’re among the last on your aircraft to be accommodated on other flights, as passengers who are on traditional Main Cabin tickets will get protected on alternative arrangements first.

Generally, elite status members will receive help no matter what ticket type they are on, but if you’re on a Basic Economy ticket without status, it may be difficult to get rebooked since other options may be full.

Hot Tip: If you’re a business traveler that needs to be in a particular city at a certain time, it may be better to book a Main Cabin ticket — that way if things go wrong, you’ll be accommodated much faster than someone on a Basic Economy fare.

Earning Miles and Status Credit

Fortunately, Delta’s Basic Economy still earns Medallion Qualifying Miles, Medallion Qualifying Dollars and Medallion Qualifying Segments, just like all other fares.

Remember that because the fares are cheaper, you’ll need to purchase more tickets to earn status than you would if you had purchased a more expensive regular fare.

What Does a Delta Main Cabin Ticket Include?

Baggage

When you purchase a traditional Delta Main Cabin ticket, you can bring on 2 carry-on bags: one to fit under the seat in front of you and one to put in the overhead bin.

You can also purchase checked bags, or additional checked bags if you get the first one for free.

Stand By and Ticket Changes

You can change your ticket (more than 24 hours from the flight) for a $200 change fee on domestic itineraries or $275 on international itineraries. 

Elites on Main Cabin tickets can standby for other flights at no charge, or do same-day changes for free, within their elite tier rules. If not free, they pay the applicable fee.

Boarding

If you purchase a Main Cabin ticket, you’ll board with either Main Cabin group 1, 2, or 3, depending on your elite tier, if any.

Seat Selection

When you purchase a Main Cabin ticket, you can choose any non-Comfort+ seat in the Main Cabin, including aisles, windows, and middles. Unlike Basic Economy, you can select any seat in the Main Cabin, though some may come with charges depending on if they have extra legroom or not.

This is by far one of the best benefits of having a Main Cabin ticket — you can assure yourself of a halfway decent seat without worrying about being assigned a middle seat at check-in like Basic Economy tickets.

Here are the locations of all Delta Main Cabin seats on all aircraft (not including Comfort+), according to SeatGuru:

Economy Seat Locations on Delta by Aircraft
Widebody Jets
Airbus A330-200 (332)Rows 14-35A, B, C, D, F, G, H, J
Airbus A330-300 (333)Rows 15-43
Airbus A330-900neo (339)Rows 27-58
Airbus A350-900 (359)Rows 30-55
Boeing 767-300ER (76H/76Z) Layout 3Rows 18-42A, B, C, D, E, F, G
Boeing 767-300ER (76L) Layout 2Rows 22-42
Boeing 767-300ER (76T/76W) Layout 1Rows 22-42
Boeing 767-300ER (76Z) Layout 4Rows 18-42
Boeing 767-400ER (764) Layout 2Rows 34-57
Boeing 767-400ER (76D) Layout 1Rows 19-46
Boeing 777-200ER/LR (7CB) Layout 1Rows 44-57A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J
Boeing 777-200ER/LR (7HD) Layout 2Rows 30-57
Narrowbody Jets
Airbus A220-100 (CS1)Rows 13-29A, B, C, D, E
Airbus A319 (319)Rows 13-29A, B, C, D, E, F
Airbus A320 (32K) Layout 1Rows 13-33
Airbus A320 (32M) Layout 2Rows 13-33
Airbus A321 (321) Layout 1Rows 15-39
Airbus A321 (321) Layout 2Rows 15-39
Boeing 717-200 (717)Rows 14-29A, B, C, D, E
Boeing 737-700 (73W)Rows 13-28A, B, C, D, E, F
Boeing 737-800 (73H)Rows 16-33
Boeing 737-900ER (739)Rows 14-37
Boeing 757-200 (757)Rows 24-45
Boeing 757-200 (75D)Rows 21-45
Boeing 757-200 (75G)Rows 14-35
Boeing 757-200 (75P)Rows 23-44
Boeing 757-200 (75S)Rows 26-44
Boeing 757-300 (75Y)Rows 20-49
Embraer E-170 (E70)Rows 7-18A, B, C, D
Embraer E-175 (E75) Layout 1Rows 8-20
Embraer E-175 (E75) Layout 2 – SkyWestRows 10-19
McDonnell Douglas MD-88 (M88)Rows 15-36A, B, C, D, E
McDonnell Douglas MD-90 (M90)Rows 15-39
Regional Jets
Bombardier CRJ-100/200Rows 1-13A, B, C, D
Bombardier CRJ-700 (CR7)Rows 8-18
Bombardier CRJ-900 (CR9)Rows 10-20
Bombardier CRJ-900 Atmosphere Cabin (CR9)Rows 10-19

Here are the seat dimensions of Main Cabin on all Delta aircraft, according to SeatGuru:

Delta Economy Seat Measurements
AircraftNumber of Economy Seats Seat PitchSeat Width
Widebody Jets
Airbus A330-200 (332)16831-32″18″
Airbus A330-300 (333)21931-32″18″
Airbus A330-900neo (339)16831-32″18″
Airbus A350-900 (359)22631-32″18″
Boeing 767-300ER (76H/76Z) Layout 316531-32″17.9″
Boeing 767-300ER (76L) Layout 214331-32″17.9″
Boeing 767-300ER (76T/76W) Layout 114331-32″17.9″
Boeing 767-300ER (76Z) Layout 417131-32″17.9″
Boeing 767-400ER (76D) Layout 117831-32″17.9″
Boeing 767-400ER (764) Layout 215631″18.1″
Boeing 777-200ER/LR (7CB) Layout 112231-32″18.5″
Boeing 777-200ER/LR (7HD) Layout 222031-32″18.5″
Narrowbody Jets
Airbus A220-100 (CS1)8230-32″18.6″
Airbus A319 (319)10230-31″18″
Airbus A320 (32K) Layout 112630-31″18″
Airbus A320 (32M) Layout 212330-31″18″
Airbus A321 (321) Layout 114331″18″
Airbus A321 (321) Layout 214330-31″18″
Boeing 717-200 (717)7831″18.1″
Boeing 737-700 (73W)9430-31″17.2″
Boeing 737-800 (73H)10831-32″17.2″
Boeing 737-900ER (739)13930-31″17.2″
Boeing 757-200 (757)13531-33″17.2″
Boeing 757-200 (75D)15030-32″17.2″
Boeing 757-200 (75G)12830-32″17.2″
Boeing 757-200 (75P)13231″17.3″
Boeing 757-200 (75S)10831-33″17.2″
Boeing 757-300 (75Y)17830-32″17.2″
Embraer E-170 (E70)4831″18.3″
Embraer E-175 (E75) Layout 15231″18.25″
Embraer E-175 (E75) Layout 2 – SkyWest3832″17.2″
McDonnell Douglas MD-88 (M88)10831-33″16.79-17.17″
McDonnell Douglas MD-90 (M90)11730-31″18.1″
Regional Jets
Bombardier CRJ-100/2005031″17.3″
Bombardier CRJ-700 (CR7)4631″17.3″
Bombardier CRJ-900 (CR9)4431″16.85-17.17″
Bombardier CRJ-900 Atmosphere Cabin (CR9)3831″17.2″

Upgrades

Unlike Basic Economy tickets, all Main Cabin fares are eligible for upgrade:

  • Elites members can list for complimentary upgrades
  • You can pay for an upgrade to Comfort+
  • You can use a regional upgrade or a global upgrade on longer flights
  • You can pay the fare difference between economy class and first class

Bottom Line: If you’re a Delta Medallion elite member, one of the biggest benefits for your status is upgrades. Purchase a traditional Main Cabin ticket if you wish to take advantage of these upgrades.

Rebooking

If your flight gets delayed or canceled, you will be rebooked ahead of Basic Economy customers, and receive priority for seats on other flights.

Earning Miles and Status Credit

Like Basic Economy, you’ll continue to earn the same amount of Medallion Qualifying Dollars, Segments, and Miles. Delta does not penalize you for having a Basic Economy fare, nor does it reward for having a Main Cabin ticket.

Delta Air Lines Economy IFE inflight entertainment
If you don’t care about seat assignments, checked baggage, or upgrades, a Basic Economy fare might be right for you. Image Credit: Delta Air Lines

What About Basic Economy on Other Carriers?

Delta is one of the more generous carriers when it comes to Basic Economy. Because it was the pioneer of the basic fare, Delta has become a leader of this cheap ticket category.

  • American and United will auto-assign seats when you check-in, within 24 hours of your flight. You may be assigned what’s considered an undesirable seat, and if you wish to move out of it, it may cost you. On Delta, you can choose what seats are left over once you have checked in.
  • United is the one carrier that doesn’t offer elite credit for Basic Economy fares, so American and Delta are the best carriers if you’re concerned with your elite status.
  • All carriers offer award miles on basic fares, so regardless of how cheap your ticket is, you’ll still accumulate miles toward desirable awards.
  • No carrier offers any upgrades or ticketing changes on basic fares. If you need to make such a change, you need to buy a new ticket.

Final Thoughts

Delta is one of the more generous airlines when it comes to Basic Economy, but it still isn’t for everyone.

There are several types of people who should avoid Basic Economy:

  • Elite status passengers may care about upgrades, in which case they’ll want to buy a regular fare.
  • Those who make ticket changes often will want to buy a regular fare.
  • Those who check bags will want to buy a regular fare.
  • Those who prefer certain seats on the plane will want to buy a regular fare.

A Basic Economy ticket is perfect for budget-minded travelers who simply want to get between A and B and don’t care which amenities come with the ticket.


Frequently asked questions

Do you get a carry-on with Delta Basic Economy?

Yes! Similar to Delta’s traditional Main Cabin product, you are allowed to bring on 1 carry-on bag to be stowed in the overhead bin and 1 personal item to fit underneath the seat in front of you. Keep in mind that Basic Economy passengers are the last to board the plane, so there may be limited storage opportunities if the flight is very full.

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

In short, Delta Basic Economy tickets do not include any upgrade opportunities, advanced seat selection, or checked baggage. If you normally check a bag, are an elite passenger who likes to upgrade, or a passenger who cares what seat you sit in, a Delta Basic Economy fare is not for you.

Does Basic Economy guarantee a seat?

On a Basic Economy ticket, you are always guaranteed a seat on the aircraft. Your seat selection will be limited until you check in for your flight, so at that time, the seats available may be in the very rear of the plane, in the middle of rows, or in other undesirable locations, but regardless of this, you will always be guaranteed a seat on the plane.

James Larounis

About James Larounis

Jamie first got his hook on miles and points during a high school choir trip to Europe, where he flew in Lufthansa First Class (thanks to his dad’s then US Airways miles) because economy was sold out.

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