MONEY Travel

What the New Cuba Agreement Means for Travel and Cigars

The new deal eases restrictions on traveling to the country and allows Americans to bring home some of those famous cigars.

MONEY Odd Spending

4 Things to Know About (Legal) Cuban Cigars

A box of large cohiba Cuban cigars.
A box of large cohiba Cuban cigars. David Curtis—agefotostock

For the time being, it still won't be easy to procure legal Cuban cigars.

In 1962, President John Kennedy reportedly stockpiled 1,200 Cuban cigars before signing the decree to cut economic ties with Cuba. Now that President Obama has reestablished diplomatic ties and lifted the outright ban on cigars, you might be eager to build your own stash.

Not so fast. Here’s what the new rules actually mean for you.

1) Cuban cigars are still not legal for sale in the United States.

President Obama reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba. He did not lift the embargo on Cuba—that will take an act of Congress. While the United States will soon ease restrictions on travel and banking, for the time being, the ban on trade remains in place. Which means you won’t be able to buy legal Cuban cigars from American retailers anytime soon.

Current law says the penalty for importing Cuban cigars is up to $250,000 in fines and up to 10 years in prison. Under the new rules, travelers to Cuba can bring back $400 worth of goods, only $100 of which can be cigars and alcohol.

2) Only “licensed travelers” can get them.

If you want legal cigars, you need a license to cross the straits of Florida. The White House says the government will allow Americans to travel to Cuba to visit family, to conduct official government business, to produce journalism, for professional research, for educational activities, for religious activities, for public events, to support the Cuban people, for humanitarian projects, to act on behalf of private foundations, to transmit information materials, and to conduct “certain export transactions.”

That said, the Associated Press reported that 170,000 Americans visited the country legally last year. If you’re thinking of traveling to Cuba now that the United States has restored full relations, here’s what else you should know.

3) Yes, Cuban cigars really do taste different.

Cuban cigars been contraband for half a century. So are they really as good as people say, or does the “forbidden fruit” taste sweeter?

Aaron Sigmond, founding editor of The Cigar Report and Smoke Magazine, says yes: Cuba’s terroir—its soil and climate—does produce different tobacco. “The Dominican Republic and Nicaragua both make exceptional cigars, but nothing is like Cuba,” Sigmond told Bloomberg. “It’s analogous to wines. California, Oregon, Italy all make exceptional vintage wines, but the wines of France reign supreme simply because of the terroir in Burgundy and Bordeaux.”

Researchers agree: One study found judges could distinguish between Cuban and non-Cuban cigars, and judges consistently ranked Cuban cigars higher, Vox reports. That’s significant, since previous studies have found that people struggle to distinguish expensive and inexpensive wines.

But if you’re not a cigar aficionado, you might not be able to tell. Many people are snookered by counterfeits. “Most people are not getting what they think are Cuban cigars,” Roland Boone, tobacconist for the Buckhead Cigar Club in Atlanta, told Bloomberg. “Many are made in Mexico, with a facsimile of a band that appears like a Cuban band.”

4) If you want to try a real Cuban, it’ll probably run you $10 to $20 a cigar—or more.

Real Cubans are expensive. Slate estimates that they start at $10 a pop. Sadly, that means the rules could exclude the best Cuban cigars. Stephen Pulvirent at Bloomberg writes:

“While prices vary greatly—not all Cuban cigars are created equal—the $100 allotment will generally cover no more than a dozen high-end cigars from makers such as Partagás and Cohiba. There are vintage and limited edition cigars for which a single stick will still be too pricey to make it into the U.S.”

READ NEXT: Thinking About a Trip to Cuba? 5 Things You Should Know

MONEY Travel

Thinking About a Trip to Cuba? 5 Things You Should Know

Catedral de San Cristobal, Havana, Cuba.
Catedral de San Cristobal, Havana, Cuba. age fotostock—Alamy

Yesterday's announcement that the U.S. will loosen restrictions on visiting Cuba has some travelers in tizzy. By all means, pack your bags—but read this first.

Did you hear that noise yesterday afternoon? It was the collective squeal of travelers around the country, upon learning that President Obama had announced the resumption of U.S diplomatic relations with Cuba. For many American vacationers, Cuba—with its classic cars, mojitos, and fine cigars—is a dream destination, but one that rigid travel restrictions have made difficult to visit. Yesterday’s announcement didn’t remove those strictures, but it did promise to relax them.

Ready to go? Here’s what you should know.

1. Don’t expect anything to change overnight

While the new policy won’t allow unrestricted tourism to Cuba (which would require an act of Congress), it will loosen restrictions on certain types of trips, according to a White House statement. So what exactly does that mean? There’s plenty of speculation, but no one really knows the details just yet. On Wednesday afternoon, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of the Department of the Treasury, announced that it expects to issue its revised travel rules in “the coming weeks.” No changes will take effect until those new rules are released.

Currently, U.S. citizens who want to visit Cuba have a few options. Cuban-Americans with close family in the country can visit as often as they like, while other people may be permitted to go for professional, religious, or educational purposes. However, for the typical traveler, the most viable option is a “people-to-people” trip. These are super-regulated group tours, which must focus on educational and cultural interactions with Cubans. Many industry experts expect that the new rules will focus on loosening the restrictions around these existing forms of travel.

2. Some prices may fall…

According to Collin Laverty, president of trip provider Cuba Educational Travel, the typical cost of a group tour to Cuba is around $4,000 to $5,000. One reason prices are so steep, he explains, is that people-to-people trips must be highly scheduled, meaning they include all meals, guides, transportation, activities, and more. Plus, tour providers must stay on top of their permits and licensing, which requires manpower and lawyers’ fees. (Katharine Bonner, who oversees travel to Cuba for Tauck, says it took six months for the company to get its paperwork renewed.) Tom Popper, president of operator insightCuba, adds that Cuban travel suppliers tend to charge American firms a premium, which drives up the price of the tour.

If the new rules allow less rigorously structured tours, prices are expected to come down. And, should they allow for independent travel to the country, vacationers will likely be able to choose their lodging and itinerary, giving them more control over what they pay.

3. …but demand is likely to pick up quickly.

Travel to Cuba is already pretty popular. According to the Associated Press, 170,000 Americans visited the country legally last year, while Quartz reports that the island was the second most popular Caribbean destination for international travelers during the first nine months of 2014. As U.S. travel restrictions ease, trip providers say they expect demand to surge. For people who’ve always wanted to go but never managed to pull the trigger, the idea that massive cruise lines could soon be adding Cuba to their itineraries may be what it takes to get them to book. “People want to go before it changes,” says Popper. “The collective travel consciousness says this isn’t going to last forever.”

4. The infrastructure isn’t there yet.

For Canadians and other international travelers, Cuba is often seen as a sun-and-sand getaway rather than a cultural destination, says Laverty. As a result, “there are a sufficient amount of hotels by the beaches, but once you get into Havana, there aren’t enough rooms,” he says. Until the country’s tourism infrastructure has a chance to catch up, Americans looking to stay in the cities or countryside may have a tough time finding accommodations. Flights are also tricky. Right now, the only domestic commercial options are charters, all of which fly out of Florida.

5. New options are coming.

Under the current system, travel companies that are licensed to take Americans to Cuba have something of a monopoly, says Laverty. While the new rules are unlikely to completely erode that advantage, they should make the industry more competitive and fuel new options for travelers. In the case of Cuba Educational Travel, that may mean adding some more independent, less full-service options. Says Laverty: “We’re ready to help people navigate these uncharted waters.”

Read next: Viva Cuba Libre

TIME Travel

Twitter Laments the Certain ‘Ruin’ of Havana by Tourists

Thanks, Obama

Moments after President Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. would begin restoring relationships with Cuba, which includes loosening the existing travel ban, the perpetual curmudgeons of the Twitterverse declared Havana in all its exclusive, un-commercialized glory officially over. Don’t even think about going there now, some users griped. And if you do, get there literally right now because hipsters are definitely going to ruin it.

Havana, so it seems, according to Twitter, will soon go the way of Brooklyn and the countless other cities effectively ruined by well-meaning yuppies and fanny-pack-donning tourists, who heard great things about a place from their one cool and/or worldly cousin on Facebook.

Take this as a fair warning. Book your flights now before the Starbucks, J.Crew, and McDonald’s pop up.

Others, however, were a bit more upbeat about the potential for more Americans to experience Cuba firsthand.

TIME Travel

9 Little Known Places to Visit in New York City (That Aren’t Tourist Traps)

New York has more to offer than Times Square and the Statue of Liberty

  • The New York Federal Reserve’s Gold Vault

    A real-life Mt. Doom, this vault is the world’s largest storehouse of treasure. You can see its 7,000 tons of gold—5 percent of all that was ever mined, even more than Ft. Knox—which is now worth $273 billion. The vault was robbed in Die Hard With a Vengeance, but you’ll never get away with it. (Manhattan) More at Atlas Obscura.

  • The Explorers Club Headquarters

    A stuffed polar bear. Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki globe. A “yeti scalp.” The spectacular Explorers Club is stuffed to the rafters with the treasures, curios, maps, and books collected by the world’s greatest adventurers. (Manhattan) More at Atlas Obscura.

  • A Panorama of the City of New York

    Constructed for the 1964 World’s Fair, and updated recently, this basketball-court sized model shows the entire, sprawling city, with tiny scale versions of every single one of the 895,000 buildings in the five boroughs. Circumnavigate it on a catwalk, and feel like an emperor! (Queens) More at Atlas Obscura.

  • Harry Houdini’s Grave

    Fans still gather at the grave of the magician, awaiting his escape from death. For years it was the site of Halloween séances. Now Houdini’s admirers leave decks of cards and tarots for him. (Queens) More at Atlas Obscura.

  • The Earth Room

    For nearly 40 years, this loft space has been filled two-feet deep with dirt, sometimes sprouting mushrooms. It’s an art installation, not poor housekeeping, and the room is a peaceful, quiet sanctuary from the city bustle below. The dirt is valued at a million dollars; the real estate is worth a lot more. (Manhattan) More at Atlas Obscura.

  • The Pratt Institute Engine Room

    With its glistening 19th century steam generators and its marble switchboard, it’s heaven for steampunks. (Manhattan) More at Atlas Obscura.

  • Mmuseumm

    Exhausted by huge museums and giant exhibitions? Then Mmuseumm is the place for you: a museum housed in a freight elevator. The quirky, tiny collection includes that shoe that was hurled at President George W. Bush in Iraq. (Manhattan) More at Atlas Obscura.

  • The John M. Mossman Lock Collection

    A gorgeous display of more than 300 antique bank locks, each more ornate, more complex, and more fiendish than the last. (Manhattan) More at Atlas Obscura.

  • Marilyn Monroe’s Grate, and the Ghostbusters Firehouse

    New York is jammed with real-life movie locations, but these are two of the most iconic. Hook and Ladder 8 was the Ghostbusters firehouse. The most famous subway grate in the world is at the corner of Lexington and 52nd. It’s where, during The Seven Year Itch, a passing 6 subway train blew up Marilyn Monroe’s dress. (Manhattan) More on the firehouse and the subway grate in Atlas Obscura.

    This article was written by David Plotz for Atlas Obscura.

TIME Travel

How to Survive the Airport During the Holidays

woman-in-line-airport
Getty Images

Includes the complete guide to the golden weapon: free in-flight wi-fi

This article originally appeared on Map Happy.

While the holidays are about nice, happy things like spending time with family, it’s really every person for him or herself at the airport. Better get your battle helmet on.

This is the time of the year that I usually show up at the airport and realize everyone, their mother and their mother’s mother is trying to snake their way through the security line. Frankly, if beating the system was easy, this blog wouldn’t exist. In the meantime, what we can do is cover a few of the key highlights that you might encounter when you go into the wild.

God bless. Now I must prepare to go do battle.

Get dropped off at arrivals. Then make your way up to the departure area instead of having to fight through a sea of cars just to drop someone off and then kiss them goodbye.

Get to the airport early. Typically, I abide by the be-at-the-airport-one-hour-before-boarding-time rule (notice I didn’t say departure). I have a couple of things in my favor—like being a PreCheck member for instance—but I find it’s a nice balance between waiting around forrreever and having some nice cushion time before your flight so you’re not stressing. This no longer applies during peak holiday season.

I would instantly add a minimum of thirty to forty-five minutes to this cushion time. Shoot for one hour if you’re doing heavy travel during the worst days possible for Thanksgiving, say like the Wednesday before the feasting and the following Sunday before work. That’s about two hours before boarding time but you’ll thank me when you see the security line.

Skip the check-in to save time. At this point, if you’re avoiding online check-in, you must be living in the Stone Ages. To save even more time, just stick to the personal item and carry-on bag. Pie not included.

It’s time to use every exception you possibly can. If you’re traveling with kids, ask security staff if there’s a special dedicated line for them. Same goes for seniors and handicapped.

Pack correctly. Do everyone a favor and put your liquids and electronics in an easily accessible, front-facing slot so you don’t have to spend 900 minutes opening up your bag and making the people behind you wait.

Be courteous. The most annoying thing you can do is to start putting your shoes right at the x-ray belt as other items are trying to move past you. The smarter thing is to pick up your belongings, move to the very end of the belt or to a nearby bench and then repack your belongings.

Fighting for overhead bin space. This is why it’s key to pack light, light, light. Many people take this as an opportunistic time to shove their way to the front of their boarding group so they get first dibs, which is actually not very nice.

In fact, this is a good opportunity to gate-check your bag for free if you so desperately originally wanted to check in your bag. Most gate agents will probably be happy to take it off your hands if it’s a packed plane.

Pack your food. Flights are long and food is expensive and free peanuts have been annihilated by a comet, making them an extinct species. Shoot for mess-free, nourishing foods that keep free at room temperature. I always try to make some time to swing by a local convenience store before I get on the plane if I don’t have time to prepare for it by then.

Do you need Wi-Fi? I just wrote a complete guide on how to hack it here.

Freshen up on the plane. Bring the appropriate accessories and it can make the difference between feeling like a million bucks or being ready to strangle a cat by the time you get out of the airplane cabin.

In case all else fails, I also wrote about this last year with detailed tips for different stages of the process. You can never be overprepared for Fight Club.

Read more from Map Happy:

TIME Travel

How to Get Paid for a Flight Delay

20-ways-to-travel-better
Andrew Myers

20 ways to travel smart

There are two types of travelers in this world: those who put up with the difficulties and occasional indignities of travel and those who are determined to triumph over them.

If you’re in the former camp, take note: with so much new technology available at your fingertips—and so many companies coming up with innovative solutions to travel dilemmas—there’s no reason to suffer in silence any longer.

For the past year, Travel + Leisure’s Trip Doctor news team has been testing and evaluating ways to travel better. Among our finds: a new breed of flexible airfare search tools that are making it easier to find lower-priced tickets that work with your schedule and travel parameters.

We also uncovered some enterprising services that will help you get paid—handsomely—when your flight is delayed or your luggage goes missing. And once you’ve arrived in your destination, we’ve identified simple ways that you can access a gym (a good one), stream your favorite television shows, connect to Wi-Fi for free, keep your business attire looking sharp, and ensure that your essential mobile devices never run out of batteries.

We even looked closely at the real reason some bags don’t make it to their final destination. And we asked Google Maps to analyze its traffic data to help us pinpoint the best (and worst) times to hit the road before a major holiday.

The result of all this research: your road map for how to travel better in 2015.

No. 1 Get Paid for a Flight Delay

If time is money, then air travel collectively owes us all. Tipping the scales in travelers’ favor: Berkshire Hathaway’s new AirCare insurance, which offers generous compensation for a fixed rate of $25. Delays of two or more hours get you $50; if you miss a connection, there’s a $250 payout. And tarmac delays of more than two hours get you $1,000. (A bag delayed by 12 hours is worth $500.) You can purchase a policy up to 24 hours before departure time and payments are often instantaneous— wired into your bank or PayPal account.

Strict European Union regulations mean that passengers departing from any European airport (or flying a European carrier into the union) are eligible for compensation of up to $750 for a delayed, canceled, or overbooked flight. Here in the United States, travelers who are involuntarily bumped from a flight could be owed up to $1,300. AirHelp will go after your money for you, minus a 25 percent commission.

No. 2 Understand Code Shares

Think you’re getting credit for all your frequent-flier miles by traveling on a partner airline? Not necessarily. Each partnership works differently: some offer full mileage and elite-qualifying credit for tickets on other carriers; others offer reduced (or even no) credit. And because some domestic loyalty programs calculate miles based on dollars spent (rather than distance flown), you may even bank more miles if you buy directly from a partner airline. Check the terms of each code share with your preferred carrier before booking.

No. 3 Beat Holiday Traffic

When hitting the road on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the Friday before Christmas—among the busiest days of the year—planning down to the hour can make a difference. With the help of Google Maps, we’ve charted the traffic patterns around four of the country’s biggest cities.

The data from Chicago, D.C., Los Angeles, and New York City reveal that on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, 4 p.m. is the worst time to travel, while 5 p.m. is the worst time to travel on the Friday before Christmas.

Methodology: Google Maps analyzed the total number of cars on the road at a given time, looking at the speed of vehicles with location-services-enabled android smartphones. Traffic is measured for the year 2013.

No. 4 Use a Digital Assistant

If you’re a Google user, it’s time to get on board with the app’s built-in digital assistant, which puts Siri to shame. More than just a smart voice search, the service scans your Gmail and Google Calendar for booking details and appointments, learns your preferences via your browsing history, and monitors your daily habits to deliver relevant updates (local weather, currency conversions) within the app. What you’ll get:

Real-time Updates: Get info about flights, including delays and gate changes, starting 24 hours before departure.

Scheduling Assistance: Based on traffic and your preferred mode of transportation, it’ll tell you when to leave for the airport, a dinner reservation, and meetings and appointments.

Rebooking Help: If your flight is canceled, Google provides a direct link to Google Flight Search, which displays alternative flights.

Itinerary Management: A new feature launching this month pulls up your flight and hotel confirmations, restaurant bookings, and more. Simply say “OK Google, show me my trip.”

No. 5 Get Through Customs Faster

Good news if you travel to Asia on business: for the first time since its introduction in 1997, the APEC Business Travel Card is available to American citizens. What that means: preclearance and expedited immigration processing in 21 member destinations (China, Singapore, Australia, and Mexico, to name a few). If you are already part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler network (Global Entry, SENTRI, or NEXUS), apply through CBP’s online system, GOES. Or start an account with GOES, and request to be enrolled in both programs at the same time.

Read the full list HERE.

More from Travel + Leisure:

TIME Travel

The World’s Most Luxurious Hot Tubs

Angsana Tengchong Resort, Yunnan, China
Angsana Tengchong Resort, Yunnan, China Courtesy of Angsana Tengchong

Luxurious hot tubs from bucolic China to downtown Manhattan have more than warm water in common—the views are incomparable

There’s no escaping it: after a day hoofing it around Paris from Montmartre to Montparnasse; off-roading in a bare-bones Land Rover on safari in Botswana; or attacking moguls in Vail, CO, the day’s activities are bound to haunt you. One of the oldest, most common ways known to man to relieve aches and pains is also one of today’s most luxurious and coveted amenities. In ancient times, the Romans named it the caldarium; we simply call it the hot tub.

Today, hot tubs are tucked into balconies and placed like ornate centerpieces on white-sand beaches. Hotels are increasingly charging architects with creating steaming jet-powered oases that will fuel guests’ imagination and allow them to while away their vacation in warmth—and turn to Jell-O.

And that’s exactly what happened when Resorts West partnered with Ski magazine and Deer Valley Resort to build the most idyllic ski-in, ski-out home possible. Resorts West CEO and cofounder Joe Ballstaedt wanted to one-up the extravagant lodges he had visited in Europe and South America—especially when it came to the après-ski amenities.

“Our Ski Dream Home—a six-bedroom luxury home atop Deer Valley Resort’s Little Baldy Peak with a stunning kidney-shaped hot tub for 12—improves on Chile’s top resort lodges with natural grottoes and epic mountain backdrops,” says Ballstaedt.

The view, though, is just one measurement of a great Jacuzzi. For John DiScala, owner of the travel Web site JohnnyJet.com, the hot tub also needs to be secluded. And DiScala has seen plenty of hot tubs, good and bad—he travels about 150,000 miles and visits around 20 countries each year, from Brazil to Malaysia.

So we consulted him and other hot tub aficionados to compile a list of the world’s best hot tubs, which stretch from Jackson, WY, to the Maldives. Some tubs sit on the edge of pristine, white-sand beaches, while others are hidden behind deep jungle foliage. A few will take hours and a tiny seaplane to reach, and one was even created by film icon Francis Ford Coppola.

Go enjoy the sense of place all these tubs offer—it’s a great excuse to soak yourself silly.

The Molori Safari Lodge, South Africa’s North West Province

You can watch elephants, zebras, African wild dogs—even lions—from the six-person in-ground tub at this five-suite lodge, situated below the red-hued Dwarsberg Mountains on 12.4 acres deep inside South Africa’s 185,329-acre (malaria-free) Madikwe Game Reserve. Personal butlers supply soakers with Amarula, a South African cream liqueur made from the fruit of the African marula tree, on crushed ice, and “Biltong and Droewors,” a traditional cured-beef snack.

Nimmo Bay Resort, British Columbia, Canada

At Nimmo Bay Resort, two idyllic red cedar tubs, heated to 104 degrees, are secreted away in a wooded inlet, 200 miles north of Vancouver. After a day of wildnerness adventures or heli-fishing the area’s remote rivers and lakes, rotate between the naturally cold plunge pool and one of the two eight-person hot tubs for an exhilarating hot-cold rush. The tubs are filled by Nimmo Bay’s cascading waterfall, whose clear water trickles down from the top of Mount Stephens.

Amangani, Jackson, WY

This 40-suite resort’s hot tub clings to the western edge of Jackson Hole’s East Gros Ventre Butte and is a mere 20-minute drive from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The slate tub is 103 degrees and was designed, alongside the 35-meter, quartzite-tiled pool, to be the resort’s centerpiece. Since the winds can howl at 7,000 feet, it’s not uncommon for one of the resort’s staff to bring guests hot beverages in the colder months and cold beverages and assorted treats like sorbets and snow cones in the warmer months.

Blancaneaux Lodge, near San Ignacio, Belize

Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancaneaux Lodge has a hydroelectric plant that heats the 11,000-gallon hot tub with the excess electricity it generates. The tub itself was designed by Oscar-winning production designer Dean Tavoularis. Made from thousands of pieces of local granite and built by local stone craftsmen, it sits in a hillside amid the same kind of lush jungle paradise Coppola fell in love with while filming Apocalypse Now.

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, Maldives

Overlook the Indian Ocean from the ultra-private two-person, 104-degree hot tub outside of Conrad Maldives’ Over-Water Spa on Rangalifinolhu Island. The resort is set on two private islands, linked by a bridge, and surrounded by a vibrant coral reef, among miles of idyllic white-sand beaches. Each secluded tub gives guests uninterrupted views of the bright blue water. Hotel staffers supply cool aromatic towels and fresh fruit juices.

Read the full list HERE.

More from Travel + Leisure:

MONEY Travel

Delta Airlines to Offer Five Seat Classes

Delta Air Lines will soon slice the cabin into five seating classes, ranging from no-frills economy to premium flat-bed seats.

MONEY Airlines

New ‘Basic’ Airline Ticket Is Worse Than Any Low-Fare Carrier Option

Economy class
Bart Sadowski—Getty Images

Delta recently introduced a new five-tier airfare scheme, including a revamped low-price "Basic Economy" ticket that's the riskiest, most restrictive, and least comfortable option in the sky.

Earlier this week, Delta announced that it is “redefining the products it offers customers to further distinguish the choices available to them,” with the 2015 rollout of a five different categories of service (and pricing) that passengers must choose from when buying flights.

Essentially, the more you pay, the better service and amenities you can expect. This is more or less the way things have always been with airline pricing. Yet the introduction of five flight categories—including “First Class” and an even higher class dubbed “Delta One,” as well as something called “Delta Comfort+” and “Main Cabin,” which used to be known as “Economy” or just coach—is unnecessarily confusing, and it certainly raises the bar in terms of instituting an onboard caste system. More importantly, Delta is flying into new territory at the low end of pricing, with the cheapest category providing the least flexible and least comfortable product of any American carrier.

“We’re providing Delta customers with a thoughtful, well-defined spectrum of options as they make decisions about travel,” Glen Hauenstein, the airline’s executive vice president and chief revenue officer, said in a press release. “Whether a customer prioritizes the perks of Delta One or the value of Basic Economy, every seat comes with impeccable service and unmatched reliability.”

Still, some travelers will be very surprised to find out what a Basic Economy seat comes without. Delta first began testing its low-price Basic Economy fare back in 2012 on a couple of flights. What stood out then about this low-fare option—and what remains unusual even in today’s profit-first, customers-last atmosphere—is how rigid and cruel it is. Neither advanced seat selection nor itinerary changes are allowed, not even for an extra fee. So this low-cost option is out of the question for couples or families who want to be assured they’ll sit together when flying. Also, because anyone not flying on a Basic Economy ticket has the right to arrange a seating assignment in advance, in all likelihood the passengers traveling on the cheapest tickets will be stuck in the worst seats on the plane. What’s more, because changes and cancellations are not possible under any circumstances, if an emergency arises and you must miss a scheduled flight, you’ll eat the entire cost of the ticket.

Today, Delta’s Basic Economy category is available from four Delta hubs (Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City) and 33 gateways, and it’s about to get more restrictive. Delta explained that as of February 1, several services that are currently available to Basic Economy ticketholders will be eliminated. These services include complimentary or paid upgrades, same-day standby, and priority boarding for a purchase.

It’s well understood that Delta introduced and expanded its Basic Economy category as a way to compete with Spirit Airlines, the much-maligned carrier that’s known for low fares followed by high fees for anything above the cost of a seat. Yet even the cheapest seats sold by Spirit Airlines, as well as low-fare, high-fee imitators such as Frontier Airlines, allow customers to pay extra for seating assignments and the right to change flight dates and itineraries. Frontier and Spirit also offer passengers the option of paying extra for upgrades, in the form of seats that may be larger or just come with more legroom.

The fare structures of Delta, Spirit, and all other airlines are meant to simultaneously attract customers and boost revenues. It’s just that some airlines go about seeking these goals in different ways. Spirit and Frontier are working the a la carte model, in which customers are wooed with a low upfront price, and then hopefully they’re upsold on a bunch of services later in the game. Delta’s new five-tiered model instead wants to get most of the upselling accomplished during the ticket purchase phase. The hope is that customers are so scared off by the absence of getting an advance seat, upgrade, or the option to change a flight that they’ll readily pay more upfront.

One way or another, there’s some upselling going on, and it’ll be difficult, uncomfortable, and often just plain impossible for travelers to actually complete a flight without paying above the base fare. A Delta spokesperson told Businessweek that the Basic Economy category could expand to more cities next year. And judging by the way that Spirit Airlines and its fee-crazed equivalent in Europe, Ryanair, have proven to be not only highly profitable operations but also industry trendsetters, more and more airlines are likely to follow in its a la carte, fees-for-everything footsteps. So, one way or another, when buying a ticket, when checking in, or during the flight itself, travelers should expect to pay more.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser