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Beat no-frills airfare limits with airline card’s perks

Jeff Herman
Beat no-frills airfare limits with airline card's perks

Super-low airfares on major carriers are great, until you have to board last or are limited to a carry-on that has to fit beneath your seat. So how do you get that low fare and jump to near the front of the line and check a bag for free? Use your airline credit card.

While United Air Lines’ new Basic Economy fares include restrictions on boarding and carry-ons, United MileagePlus cardholders can get the best of both worlds. Use your MileagePlus credit card to book the lowest fare to your destination, and then your card gets you priority boarding and you can bring aboard a full-size carry-on, a United spokeswoman confirmed this week.

And all passengers booked on the same reservation with a MileagePlus credit card receive priority boarding and can board with a full-size carry-on as well, the spokeswoman added.

Travel expert Johnny Jet of JohnnyJet.com notes that with MileagePlus Explorer cards, fliers get their first checked bag free, and with MileagePlus Club cards, the first and second checked bags are free. So no-frills fare or not, “It makes sense if you fly United more than once a year or if you’re traveling with multiple people on your reservation to have their co-branded credit card to avoid the baggage fee,” Jet says.

Delta Air Lines introduced its Basic Economy fare in 2015 with similar restrictions, including seat assignment at check-in or at the gate and boarding in the last zone. American Airlines plans to introduce a similar bare-bones fare in 2017.

In Delta’s case, and we hope, American’s, too, the airline’s credit card holders can book the Basic Economy fare and use their card’s travel perks to avoid most of the Basic Economy restrictions.

For example, Delta SkyMiles and Medallion benefits apply to customers purchasing Basic Economy fares, except for advance seat assignments, same-day confirmed or standby travel changes and complimentary upgrades to first class.

My two cents: As someone who almost always opts for the lowest fare but prefers not to board last and rarely travels so light that my carry-on would fit under my seat, springing for an annual fee rewards credit card from United, Delta, American or other airline I often fly suddenly seems smart.

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