When I went online last weekend to purchase airline tickets for family members flying here from New Orleans, I encountered a surprise. I was offered four levels of ticket fare with Delta Air Lines: basic economy, main cabin, comfort-plus and first class.

"Basic economy" seats were selling for $450. For $480, I could buy "main cabin" tickets. The difference between those two? "Main cabin" tickets would have given me the ability to choose seats at the time of purchase. With "basic economy," I would have to wait until checking in online, 24 hours before departure, by which time I assume only middle seats at the back of the plane would remain.

"What gives?" I tweeted.

"We added the pay less with no preassigned seat fares," @deltaassist replied.

The problem is, as a newcomer to the system, I felt more like I was being made to pay for the privilege of selecting a seat than being offered a way to save.

Delta rolled out basic economy last year, mainly on routes where the airline competes with low-cost carriers that charge for seat assignments, such as Spirit Airlines. Now it is bringing the offering to new markets — including our own.

Also new, comfort-plus will appear as a booking option, along with main cabin and first class on some flights (including the New Orleans-to-Minneapolis flight I checked out last weekend). Comfort-plus offers extra legroom, boarding priority and complimentary beer, wine and spirits. Previously, fliers had to select it as an upgrade to coach tickets. And the cost of that Delta comfort-plus ticket, compared with the $450 basic economy fare? It would have set me back $580.

Delta is indeed giving me more options. I just didn't like any of them.

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.