It can feel like you need an advanced degree to price out the best airline ticket. Between different tiers of seat selection, offerings like Wi-Fi and paying per additional inch of legroom, there are countless add-ons that increase a passenger's ticket price.
And now, many domestic carriers are slicing up their economy class offerings into basic, standard and plus, further complicating the already complex ticketing process. It's the latest way airlines are upcharging customers with à la carte flight offerings.
Here's how to parse the terminology for the basics of economy ticketing for non-business travelers.
All of these categories vary by carrier, but typically a basic economy ticket is the least expensive and most restrictive. Passengers usually cannot select a seat, will have less legroom than other designations and sometimes will not be able to stow a bag in the overhead bins.
Passengers who buy a United basic economy ticket, for example, cannot upgrade their seat, board last and can only bring on one personal item, which must fit under a seat. Main cabin tickets are a step up from basic economy, and, at least on American, Delta and United, include the use of overhead bin space and seat selection in the cost of a more expensive ticket.
Selecting a seat with a main cabin ticket doesn't always mean that you're guaranteed more legroom or an aisle or window. With preferred seating, airlines charge customers even more to have access to seats closer to the front of the plane, or anywhere but the middle seat. Prices to select a seat range from $9 to over $100 in some cases, and major U.S. airlines including, American, Delta and United, all charge customers if they want to select a seat ahead of time.
Preferred seating is different from an upgrade to a premium or business class seat, and is worth the cost for passengers who want to avoid a middle seat or exit the plane more quickly upon arrival. But paying to select a seat doesn't necessarily mean more legroom.
Economy plus is an upgrade from basic economy and other add-ons. For an additional cost, which varies by carrier and route, passengers are able to board earlier, will have more legroom (how much more also varies by airline) and will be able to disembark more quickly.
On some airlines, like Delta's Comfort+, passengers get dedicated overhead bin space and complimentary beer, wine, spirits and premium snacks. It's pricier, but offers passengers the most perks.
Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook