Awful: United Introduces Basic Economy Fares to Asia

United is now offering a basic economy product for select trans-Pacific routes. In this article, I will point out the affected routings, price difference, and what’s missing compared to regular economy.

Trans-Pacific Basic Economy Routes

The following routes will now have basic economy fares:


  • United States
  • Canada
  • Tahiti (to US / Canada only)
  • Australia (to US / Canada only)


  • Australia (Sydney, Melbourne)
  • China (Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu)
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan (Tokyo and Osaka, and Nagoya and Fukuoka via Guam)
  • Korea (Seoul)
  • Singapore
  • Tahiti (Papeete)
  • Taiwan (Taipei)
A few observations here:
  1. Exclusions are: Guam, Micronesia islands, India (New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore), New Zealand (Auckland), and Philippines (Manila, via Guam)
  2. The reverse routings (i.e. from Asia to US / Canada) will not have basic economy fares (yet) unless you are departing from Tahiti or Australia.
  3. Available for travel ticketed and operated on United Airlines, so we will explore how this will work for joint-venture fares (i.e. UA tickets with segments operated by ANA)
  4. Canada, a country that does not have (for now) basic economy fares to/from the US or even Europe (UA has been selling trans-Atlantic basic economy fares), will now for the first time have basic economy fares. This is certainly a raw deal for Canadians.
Restrictions of Trans-Pacific Basic Economy Fares

Like any basic economy fares, the typical restrictions are listed below:

  • Not eligible for any kind of upgrades (including to Economy Plus)
  • Cannot choose or change seats
  • Cannot change flights
  • Not eligible for refund (after 24 hours since booking)

But unlike regular domestic flights (and like trans-Atlantic flights), you are allowed:

  • A full sized carry-on bag
  • First checked bag free (except for flights to/from Tahiti)
United's New Trans-Pacific Fare Pricing

Before we look at the prices, let’s see how United spins their new trans-Pacific basic economy fares:

We now offer a new trans-Pacific Basic Economy product on select routes for customers who may be more price sensitive and looking for options.

I will quickly address why the above statement is patently false. As multiple Flyertalk members observed, basic economy fare is introduced at the same price point, while the regular economy fare increased by about $80 roundtrip:

Sample fare, SFO-TYO VLXN4SB0 ($1159), a 120-day advance purchase,
14-day minimum stay behemoth. It appears to be an $80 base fare RT
discount compared to the non-BE fare, VLXN4SO2 ($1239), which has the
same conditions.

These fares were actually created on Wednesday, June 2. If I compare
them to fares that were effective on June 1, it appears that they
rewrote the entire fare table, and somehow NH just raised their prices
by $80 whereas UA raised prices by $80 and then added the BE fare. On
June 1, the corresponding fare was VLXN4SOV ($1159), on both NH and UA.
On June 2, NH raised VLXN4SOV by $80, and UA renamed it to VLXN4SO2 and
added the BE fare at the old price point.

How would a price-sensitive person benefit from the new basic economy tickets if the price are exactly the same? In fact, you’re paying the same price for a lesser product!

Now, with that out of the way, let’s look at a same ticket to from Vancouver go Taipei:

The pricing for the new basic economy fare is indeed roughly the same as the old regular economy fare, and also the economy fare is precisely $80 CAD more. I can certainly say that anyone who is ‘price-sensitive’ would be sorely disappointed.

Now, let’s see what happens if you fly non-United operated segments instead:

Keeping United flights on the outbound but with ANA-operated flights on the return does not trigger basic economy fares. However, the regular economy is $70 more than UA’s basic economy option. Whether you value UA-operated flights for $10 more is a personal decision, as many factors such as frequent flyer miles and status become part of the equation.

Bottom Line

There is no other way to put this: It stinks. The consumer is now forced to choose between paying more for the same product or paying the same for a lesser product.

There are no shortage of Asian airlines with far superior products compared to United: Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, ANA, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, and Singapore Airlines are all 5-star airlines according to Skytrax.

So this begs the question: Why is United trying to make their own product even more unattractive than it already is, when they should be more competitive in the trans-Pacific market, during a time when airlines are trying to lure customers back?