I flew roundtrip to Europe on 4 flights in basic economy for under $300 and beat the most limiting fare at its own game just by asking

FILE PHOTO: A Finnair aircraft prepares to take off from Manchester Airport in Manchester, Britain September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo

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A Finnair aircraft prepares to take off from Manchester Airport in Manchester

  • Basic economy fares allow travelers to fly for less if they're willing to sacrifice some amenities.
  • I chose the fare on a recent trip to Europe and only paid $284 for the roundtrip ticket.
  • Despite the restrictions, I was easily able to get the best out of the fare and secure some of the best seats in economy.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Just when we thought that flying in economy couldn't get any worse, airlines gave us basic economy.

Basic economy is not its own physical subsection of the economy cabin, but rather its own fare class that greatly restricts what you can do with the ticket and the amenities you receive. Once onboard the aircraft, there's really no difference between a basic economy and regular economy flyers, though the buildup is usually the most stressful.

Often, for no good reason.

After finding a flight to Copenhagen from New York over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend for $284, I immediately went to book what I thought was a killer deal. The flight times were great, the airlines were well-known full-service carriers, and I didn't see any negatives - at first.

When I got the booking page, however, alarms went off and I was immediately given the warning that this wasn't a normal ticket. It was a basic economy fare and I am essentially the worst person in the world if I book it.

Ok - that last part didn't actually happen. But it did feel like I was being hit with scare tactics to get me to pay over $100 more for a regular economy fare that I didn't really need.

Despite flying on four flights in basic economy, I managed not only to survive but thrive against all odds.

Here's how I did it.

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My basic economy journey started when I went to go book my flights to Copenhagen and was hit with this warning from American Airlines, almost as if saying "enter at your own risk."

My basic economy journey started when I went to go book my flights to Copenhagen and was hit with this warning from American Airlines, almost as if saying "enter at your own risk."

I wouldn't be able to check a bag…

I wouldn't be able to check a bag…

Choose my seat in advance...

Choose my seat in advance...

Or change my flight for any reason.

Or change my flight for any reason.

I'd also be condemned to the last boarding group on every single flight.

I'd also be condemned to the last boarding group on every single flight.

All these factors would definitely affect my travel experience but I figured that the absolute worst thing that could happen was getting a middle seat on a few flights and I could deal with that. So I booked it.

All these factors would definitely affect my travel experience but I figured that the absolute worst thing that could happen was getting a middle seat on a few flights and I could deal with that. So I booked it.

And away I went to Copenhagen for the weekend.

And away I went to Copenhagen for the weekend.

My journey would involve four flights, flying from New York to Copenhagen via Helsinki on Finnair and back home to New York via London on British Airways.

My journey would involve four flights, flying from New York to Copenhagen via Helsinki on Finnair and back home to New York via London on British Airways.

My first step was to conquer the overnight flight from New York to Helsinki as it would be the most stressful of the journey.

My first step was to conquer the overnight flight from New York to Helsinki as it would be the most stressful of the journey.

The first flight of an international journey sets the stage for the entire trip and I needed a good seat to ensure I'd get some rest on the flight as I had a long day of sightseeing ahead.

The first flight of an international journey sets the stage for the entire trip and I needed a good seat to ensure I'd get some rest on the flight as I had a long day of sightseeing ahead.

With my basic economy fare, my seat would be assigned at check-in.

With my basic economy fare, my seat would be assigned at check-in.

So I set an alarm to remind me when to check in online so I could have first pick at the seat map.

So I set an alarm to remind me when to check in online so I could have first pick at the seat map.

The plan worked and I got a window seat in the middle of the plane. Off to a good start!

The plan worked and I got a window seat in the middle of the plane. Off to a good start!

Then, when it came time to pack, I only packed the essentials so I'd meet Finnair's carry-on bag limit. I also wore my heavy coat instead of packing it to keep the weight down.

Then, when it came time to pack, I only packed the essentials so I'd meet Finnair's carry-on bag limit. I also wore my heavy coat instead of packing it to keep the weight down.

When I got to the airport, I could've breezed right to the gate with my mobile boarding pass with a primo seat assignment in hand.

When I got to the airport, I could've breezed right to the gate with my mobile boarding pass with a primo seat assignment in hand.

But then I remembered the old adage: "If you don't ask, you don't get." So I went to the counter to try and double my luck to get a seat with nobody next to me so I could stretch out.

But then I remembered the old adage: "If you don't ask, you don't get." So I went to the counter to try and double my luck to get a seat with nobody next to me so I could stretch out.

To my surprise, not only did the check-in agent move to a semi-empty row, but also offered to block the seat next to me. At this point, I was ahead of the game and feeling good about the flight.

To my surprise, not only did the check-in agent move to a semi-empty row, but also offered to block the seat next to me. At this point, I was ahead of the game and feeling good about the flight.

I was also offered the opportunity to check my bag for free, which was also expressly prohibited in the basic economy rules. All because I asked for a better seat.

I was also offered the opportunity to check my bag for free, which was also expressly prohibited in the basic economy rules. All because I asked for a better seat.

That was flight number one conquered.

That was flight number one conquered.

My next flight was from Helsinki to Copenhagen, a flight quick enough that I wouldn't have cared much where I sat but I still tried to get the best seat. When I checked in for my first flight, I was assigned an aisle seat in the back for the second leg, which was fine by me.

My next flight was from Helsinki to Copenhagen, a flight quick enough that I wouldn't have cared much where I sat but I still tried to get the best seat. When I checked in for my first flight, I was assigned an aisle seat in the back for the second leg, which was fine by me.

However, it didn't stop me checking one last time before boarding if any seats opened up closer at the check-in kiosk at Helsinki Airport.

However, it didn't stop me checking one last time before boarding if any seats opened up closer at the check-in kiosk at Helsinki Airport.

Lo and behold, an entire row in the front of the plane had opened and I was able to move there no problem via the machine.

Lo and behold, an entire row in the front of the plane had opened and I was able to move there no problem via the machine.

The seat was in row four, meaning I'd be off the plane in no time once we landed and have first dibs on snacks and drinks. Not too shabby for basic economy.

The seat was in row four, meaning I'd be off the plane in no time once we landed and have first dibs on snacks and drinks. Not too shabby for basic economy.

Flight two was complete.

Flight two was complete.

After a whirlwind weekend in Copenhagen, it was time to run through the fire again for what would be a near 12-hour journey home via London on British Airways.

After a whirlwind weekend in Copenhagen, it was time to run through the fire again for what would be a near 12-hour journey home via London on British Airways.

When I checked in, I was assigned aisle seats on both flights, which I couldn't change without paying a fee. I considered it a win.

When I checked in, I was assigned aisle seats on both flights, which I couldn't change without paying a fee. I considered it a win.

At this point, I could relax knowing I wouldn't have to spend 8 hours in darkness in a middle seat while flying on an iconic aircraft such as the 747. That didn't mean I still wasn't going to try for better.

At this point, I could relax knowing I wouldn't have to spend 8 hours in darkness in a middle seat while flying on an iconic aircraft such as the 747. That didn't mean I still wasn't going to try for better.

When I got to the gate at Copenhagen Airport, I asked the agent if any window seats were open.

When I got to the gate at Copenhagen Airport, I asked the agent if any window seats were open.

To my surprise, the agent offered me an exit row window seat with the middle seat open. I was now 3-0 in this basic economy racket.

To my surprise, the agent offered me an exit row window seat with the middle seat open. I was now 3-0 in this basic economy racket.

The seat had extra legroom and gave me room to stretch out. It was a great flight to London but now, it was time for the last flight of the trip.

The seat had extra legroom and gave me room to stretch out. It was a great flight to London but now, it was time for the last flight of the trip.

It was time to fly from London to New York on British Airways' Boeing 747, one of the airline's busiest routes on one of its most iconic aircraft.

It was time to fly from London to New York on British Airways' Boeing 747, one of the airline's busiest routes on one of its most iconic aircraft.

I was assigned one of the last rows and near the toilets, but the flight was near sold out, so I knew my odds wouldn't be that good of getting anything better. That didn't stop me asking, though, so I brought my ticket to the gate and kindly asked: "Are there any closer seats available?"

I was assigned one of the last rows and near the toilets, but the flight was near sold out, so I knew my odds wouldn't be that good of getting anything better. That didn't stop me asking, though, so I brought my ticket to the gate and kindly asked: "Are there any closer seats available?"

The next thing I knew, I had a window seat in the third row of economy. Winner winner, chicken dinner.

The next thing I knew, I had a window seat in the third row of economy. Winner winner, chicken dinner.

I boarded the plane with a smile. After only paying $280, I had gotten some of the best seats on all the aircraft I flew on, defeating basic economy at its own game by simply asking questions.

I boarded the plane with a smile. After only paying $280, I had gotten some of the best seats on all the aircraft I flew on, defeating basic economy at its own game by simply asking questions.

While going 4-0 was a great achievement, the final seat upgrade also proved instrumental as it allowed me to get off of the plane in time to catch the early train home, saving me 30 minutes in travel.

While going 4-0 was a great achievement, the final seat upgrade also proved instrumental as it allowed me to get off of the plane in time to catch the early train home, saving me 30 minutes in travel.

I learned that even though airlines will try to scare you into paying more for a basic economy fare, all it takes is pre-planning, diligence, and asking simple questions to help beat the system.

I flew two airlines, each with their own style of basic economy, and was able to get more than I could've hoped for simply by checking in exactly 24 hours in advance and asking airport staff if there was anything better available.

I also learned that humans want to help other humans, regardless of what ticket they hold, and your best bet is to always ask.

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