Generally, United's basic economy is considered to be the worst of the three, partly because the costs of buying up to regular economy can be exorbitant. Restrictions include:
- No advance seat assignment unless you pay extra (you'll get your seat at check-in or at the gate).
- No upgrades.
- No flight changes or refunds.
- MileagePlus elite credits won't be earned.
- You'll be in the last boarding group.
- You're not allowed to bring a full-size carry-on — only a small "personal item."
- You can only check-in online or through the United app if you're checking a bag. Otherwise, you'll have to check-in at the airport.
If you have a United credit card, you'll get priority boarding, and, in effect, be able to bring a regular carry-on bag on board — that's because the rule is enforced by not allowing anyone in the last boarding group, all of whom are on basic economy fares, to bring a carry-on with them.
You'll also get a free checked bag, although you must use the card to purchase your ticket in order to get that benefit.
If you try to bring your larger bag and you don't have priority boarding from the credit card (or elite status), you'll have to pay the checked bag fee plus an additional $25 "gate handling" charge.
The best card option for United flyers is the United Explorer Credit Card from Chase. The card offers 40,000 miles when you spend $2,000 in the first three months. While the card has occasionally offered higher targeted offers, those typically don't waive the $95 annual fee for the first year — this current public offer does.
In addition to the free checked bag, priority boarding, and ability to bring a carry-on when flying basic economy, the card also offers two complimentary passes to United Club lounges each year.
Click here to learn more about the United Explorer card from Insider Picks' partner: The Points Guy.