Whether you are flying domestically, heading to Europe, or vacationing in the Caribbean, basic economy fares have become unavoidable. Basic Economy fares allow the big three domestic airlines (Delta, American, and United) to compete with budget carriers like Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant, and Sun Country that offer no-frills fares.
In fact, the airlines measure the success of their basic economy offering by how many passengers pay to avoid it.
Delta has long been a leader in the airline industry – for better and worse – and it was no surprise when they were the first to roll out a Basic Economy offering back in 2013. Both United and American Airlines soon followed suit and rolled out an offering of their own.
We’ll take a deeper dive into what’s included and everything you need to know about the American Airlines Basic Economy offering.
What You Get with American Airlines Basic Economy
When American Airlines first rolled out its Basic Economy offering it was incredibly restrictive. So restrictive that, like United, you were not able to bring a carry-on bag on board with you, and you didn’t receive advanced seat assignment.
That changed on Sept. 5, 2018, when American relaxed their carry-on baggage restriction and started allowing them on Basic Economy tickets; again following Delta’s lead.
- Baggage: Get a carry-on bag and personal item for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag (or $60 each way to Europe).
- Seat Selection: Available for a fee, starting at $40. Otherwise, seats are automatically assigned.
- Boarding: Final boarding group (Group 8 or 9 depending on route).
- Earning AAdvantage Miles: Yes.
- Earning Status: Yes, but you’ll earn half the Elite Qualifying Miles and Elite Qualifying Segments as a standard economy fare.
- Upgrades: Not eligible for complimentary upgrades.
- Ticket Changes and Cancellation: Not allowed, except for within 24 hours of booking.
How to Beat American Airlines Economy
By carrying one of the co-branded American Airlines credit cards you can beat Basic Economy.
As a benefit of card membership on both the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard and the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, you will receive a free checked bag and priority boarding.
So while an American Airlines basic economy ticket would normally board in the last group, holding one of these cards allows you to board in group 5.
If you don’t hold one of the co-branded cards, finding a spot for your carry-on bag once onboard the aircraft will be a challenge as you will be the last to board. So even though you are allowed a free checked bag, it may end up getting gate checked.
Additionally, both cards also offer a free checked bag which would allow you to check and not worry about a spot for your bag once onboard the aircraft all-together. You don’t even need to pay for your ticket with the card to receive these benefits. See our post on this topic here.
What Routes Include American Airlines Basic Economy Fares?
Right now, American Airlines Basic Economy has been rolled out on all routes heading to the following locations:
- U.S. Domestic Fares
- Mexico and Central America
- The Caribbean
There is currently no basic economy offering on American Airlines flights originating out of the US heading to the following locations:
- South America
Any economy ticket you book on these routes will be a main cabin fare including advanced seat assignment, carry-on bag, ticket changes, and will be subject to upgrades for elite members (depending on the destination).
American’s Basic Economy is generally priced where their main cabin fares used to be priced. Said simply, you now have to pay more for what you once got with your economy class ticket.
Since seat assignment happens at check-in, you’ll more than likely get a middle seat. If you have multiple people on your itinerary, there is also no guarantee you will be sitting together should you go the Basic Economy route.
Some gate agents may make an attempt to seat you together if possible, but I wouldn’t suggest planning for that. This will largely depend on the agent working and the capacity of your flight.
If you don’t want to be in the middle seat or are traveling with a significant other, we recommend paying the fee to upgrade to a Main Cabin fare.
Basic economy has transformed the airfare world. Offering these bare-bones fares allows American to compete with budget carriers on price while pitting flyers with new restrictions – largely in hopes that they’ll pay up to upgrade.
Basic Economy has been extremely profitable for all of the airlines, so don’t expect it to change any time soon.