There has been a recent push for airlines to start selling a basic economy seat (similar to how Ryanair operates). These seats are no frills options and don’t allow seat assignments, carry on baggage, rewards miles etc. without a charge. Basically, these are seats that provide an airline an opportunity to upsell you for a regular economy seat. And after all the fees, this might even turn out to be a more expensive.
To be honest, I don’t even think it’s fair to compare prices at this rock bottom price with other carriers because oftentimes, they don’t show up correctly when searching online and you don’t know that the fare you’re trying to book is a basic economy seat until the very end.
That said, there is an unintended upside to all this. Since customers can’t choose their seats beforehand, the gate agent will assign them one at time of boarding. But since regular fare customers may not want to pay extra for the “better” seats (ie exit row, bulkhead, etc), the only seats left for the flight are the undesirables and the more expensive “better” seats. Basically, those paying for basic economy aren’t getting a carry on bag, but the are able to get a $70+ upgrade in seat choice by being assigned an exit or bulkhead row seat.
I personally hate these new basic economy fares. I don’t think it’s indicative of the true cost of a flight especially if you’re travelling as a family or checking bags and I don’t understand why, even in basic economy, you wouldn’t earn miles (even if at a lower rate).
That said, if you’re tempted to save a few bucks on the next flight, it might be worth it to pay the extra fee to check your bag but then show up at the gate and hope to be assigned a seat with more legroom.