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

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James Larounis
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James Larounis

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James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in...
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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 between 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 seats and are offered on a variety of aircraft types, including 757s and  767s, 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? Check out these flight reviews: Delta One Suites aboard the Airbus A350 and Delta One on a Boeing 767-300.

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.

For more information, check out our comparison of Delta Comfort+ vs. Delta first class.

Main Cabin

Main Cabin features 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 no advance 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 Economy 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 want to pay for 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. 

Some airlines, including 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.


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. Main Cabin tickets now have no change fee where you can change your ticket’s destination, routing, or more for the cost of any fare difference. 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.

If you wish to cancel your ticket and receive a credit, you’ll need to pay up to a $199 penalty and will receive the remaining difference as an eVoucher. Keep in mind, however, that most Basic Economy tickets will be under this amount, and you’ll likely forfeit the entire ticket value in most circumstances.

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.


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 Order



  • Customers needing assistance or additional time to board
  • Active-duty U.S. Military personnel with ID

Delta One

  • Delta One customers

First Class or Delta Premium Select

Early boarding for customers traveling with car seats and strollers

Delta Comfort+

  • Delta Comfort+ customers


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.


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


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

Delta’s Basic Economy does not earn SkyMiles, Medallion Qualifying Miles, Medallion Qualifying Dollars, or Medallion Qualifying Segments.

Remember that because the fares are cheaper, you’ll need to purchase traditional Main Cabin tickets if you wish to earn status.

What Does a Delta Main Cabin Ticket Include?


When you purchase a traditional Delta Main Cabin ticket, you can bring on 2 carry-on bags: 1 to fit under the seat in front of you and 1 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 prior to departure for no additional fee.

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.


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:


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



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 however this will only upgrade you to Premium Select
  • 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 of your status is upgrades. Don’t purchase a Basic Economy ticket if you wish to take advantage of these upgrades.


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

Unlike Basic Economy, you’ll continue to earn SkyMiles as well as Medallion Qualifying Dollars, Segments, and Miles. Delta penalizes passengers in this regard for having a Basic Economy fare.

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 used to be one of the more generous carriers when it came to Basic Economy, however it has recently revised the Basic Economy program to become more restrictive.

  • 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.
  • Most carriers except Delta 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 (except for American Airlines AAdvantage members). If you need to make such a change, you need to buy a new ticket.

Final Thoughts

Basic Economy 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.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, click here.

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.

Does basic economy come with checked bag?

Basic Economy tickets do not come with a free checked bag. You’ll need to pay the required fees to check a bag if you do not hold elite status.

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About James Larounis

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in dozens of travel publications.

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