Parents Beware the Airlines New Scam

During the pandemic, airlines were forced to give up their fee for changing tickets. Many of them allowed full refunds as well. But airlines love fees the way bees love honey. So, it should come as no surprise to parents that the airlines have come up with a way to charge you a change fee, without charging you a change fee.

The Economy Basic Scam

Airlines know that thanks to the internet, people will check around for the best airfare. Since most travelers choose based on price, they need a way to make their airfares sound lower, so they don’t chase their cash pinatas customers off. Enter the economy basic scam.

You see, before the pandemic, the lowest airfare was the economy fare. No matter what the name sounds like it was the regular airfare as far as everyone, but the airlines were concerned. The airlines had a non-economy airfare, but only fools and those with business contracts ever paid that price. It came in hand though for pretending that the airlines offer discount travel for children or going home for a funeral. Those “discounts” are based upon the standard fare, which is hundreds of dollars higher than the fare you see on the website, and Google Flights, or Kayak.

Usually, people paying the economy fare couldn’t change their tickets without a fee, and refunds were laughable. But thanks to the pandemic, everyone realized that the airlines were jerks about the whole change fee thing, so the airlines did the right thing and agreed to waive the change fees.

Change Fees Forever, Baby!

Search for a flight with Google Flights, or Kayak, or through your travel credit card. Whatever you like, go ahead. It does not matter.


Now click that fare. If you are paying attention, you will notice that you have priced an Economy Basic fare.

What is an economy basic fare?

I thought you would never ask. An economy basic fare is for customers who want the cheap flight they saw on the internet the most cost conscientious customers. There are three important things to pay attention to with basic economy fares.

  • No free bag check with economy basic
  • No seat reservations
  • No changes without change fees

Only the airlines could take something bad for family travel and make it worse. Granted free bags have been gone a long time unless you are flying Southwest, which is why people often try and book Southwest first. Even if the other airlines match the Southwest fare, it still costs more because you get free bags on Southwest and pay $50 or more per bag. Four of you going to visit grandma for two weeks? That’s an extra $200 over that “competitive” fare.

As a father traveling with kids, I pay really close attention to that middle bullet point. If you cannot make seat reservations before you check in 24 hours before your flight, what seats do you think are left for you?

If you answered “middle seats” you are a winner. Well… actually… a loser. Traveling with small kids sitting six rows away between two lumberjacks while you sit in a middle seat trying to take care of your kids during the flight just isn’t going to work.

That’s okay, because remember when I told you the airlines were lying about waiving the change fees? Even if you only have a carryon, and even if you are totally fine with sitting in the middle seat, you should pay attention to the fine print on every airline’s website reminding you that they are waiving change fees… um… …except economy basic fares.

Traveling With Kids

Traveling with kids can get tricky especially if they are younger. Whenever you have the ability do yourself self a favor and pay up for economy main fares. (Oh, that’s right. Even if you know they are cheats and liars, they still make it hard to know if you have the good fare or if you should pay more money.)

One travel tip that many families booking airfare use is paying for the aisle and the window seat for each parent and child (works best with 3 to 4 kids). Then, just hope that the aisle doesn’t get filled in. If it does, just ask if the lucky traveler would be willing to trade your aisle seat for his middle seat. Who would say no to that?

International Travel with Children

Along with all of the usual issues with international travel with kids remember that they need a valid passport and that theirs expire after only FIVE YEARS unlike yours which takes 10 years to expire. Unfortunately, that is not all.

Most countries require visitors to have six months left on their valid passport in order to enter the country. That means that your child’s passport becomes worthless everywhere except Canada and Mexico after just 4.5 years. Remember passport processing times are always long and these days they are even longer, so if you even think that you are going to be travelling internationally, get started on those passports if they have less than a year on them.

TSA Pre and Kids

First off, TSA Pre is awesome. No matter who you are, and no matter how little you travel, I encourage you to get TSA Pre. Most travel credit cards will even pay for it for you, so that it is free. You won’t regret walking past the crazy regular security line, plus you don’t have to take your shoes off or take food out of your backpack (Still no liquids though).

You can usually take littler kiddos without through TSA Pre, but if Junior or Junette are getting close to 13, get them TSA Pre too. Not only do you get to take them through, but it is also an awesome thing to have when they head off to college or parts unknown. If you have more than one credit card offering TSA Pre, be sure to keep track so you keep getting free fees.

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