(CNN) — No advanced seat selection, no changes or refunds.
Sound like Spirit Airlines?
Nope. It’s Delta Air Line’s new “Basic Economy” fare, part of the airline’s new five-fare class of pricing starting March 1, 2015.
No longer content to just offer first-class and coach-cabin seating, Delta is splitting its aircraft into five different fare classes.
Travelers who want more than “Basic Economy” will pay more — Delta’s not saying yet how much more — although that’s already the reality for many travelers.
Passengers who are willing to pay to change their flights and check their bags — so-called ancillary fees — helped 26 passenger U.S. airlines turn a net profit of $12.7 billion in 2013, up from a profit of $98 million in 2012.
Delta topped that list, collecting $1.67 billion last year: $840 million in reservation change/cancellation fees and $833 million in baggage fees. United Airlines came in second place, with $1.38 billion in fees: $756 million in reservation cancellation/change fees and nearly $625 million in baggage fees.
Delta hopes its new seating options will also be profitable. Note the options on the other end of the seating spectrum: The first class cabin will be split into “First Class” for domestic routes and “Delta One” for long-haul international and certain cross-country domestic flights.
The “First Class” fare includes “first to board” rights, pre-flight alcoholic drinks, snacks included on flights longer than 250 miles and meals on flights longer than 900 miles. The “Delta One” elite first class fare includes access to Delta Sky Clubs, full flat-bed seats on widebody aircraft, in-flight bedding, chef-curated menus, noise-reduction headsets and more.
In the main cabin, customers will have choice of the “Basic Economy” fare and two other fare classes.
The “Basic Economy” bare-bones coach fares will be available on domestic routes, and they’re already available in some areas where Delta competes with deep discounter Spirit Airlines.
The “Main Cabin” coach fares on domestic and long-haul international flights will allow seat selection at time of purchase and flexibility for flight changes. On long-haul international flights, the fare will include alcoholic drinks, meal service and a sleep kit.
The “Delta Comfort+” coach fare on all flights will include priority boarding and dedicated overhead bin space, alcoholic drinks, premium snacks, premium entertainment, up to four more inches of legroom and quilted seat covers.
Travel enthusiasts are already debating the impact on the flying public.
A three-way split in the coach question begs the question: “Will these new economy fares be lower than previously, because you’re getting less?” asks George Hobica, founder of AirWatchdog.com. “Or will you get less for the same fare?”
And who will guard that dedicated overhead bin space for “Delta Comfort+” travelers, Hobica asks. Already harried flight attendants trying to negotiate passengers in already crowded planes?
Aviation journalist Jason Rabinowitz argues that not much will actually change at Delta.
“The most interesting part of the (announcement) was a true definition of the new Basic Economy fare, which aims to directly compete with low-cost carrier Spirit,” says Rabinowitz, Routehappy.com’s data research manager. The routes the new fare is offered on are now clearly defined, but are still fairly limited.”
Travel blogger Christina Saull likes the simplified fare benefits chart but is troubled by that basic fare.
“The lowest fare class doesn’t allow advanced seat selection?” says Saull. “For some people that might not be a big deal, but for a frequent flier who studies seat maps to choose the best seat on the plane, that’s a deal breaker for me. That pricing structure seems Spirit-esque.”
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