Basic economy fares are the scourge of air travel, as airlines peel back once-free perks and benefits in a bid to compete with budget carriers and make more money. But just what you get – and what you don’t – varies by airline.
And with American Airlines, that’s a mixed bag. It was once up there with United as the most punishing basic economy fare, thanks to a ban on bringing carry-on bags on board. And though that’s changed, there are still important restrictions to keep in mind.
That said, there are still tactics you can employ to beat American basic economy fares on domestic flights in the U.S. And we’ll show you how.
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 last year, when American relaxed their carry-on baggage restriction and started allowing them on Basic Economy tickets, again following Delta’s lead. Here’s the full scope of what you get with a basic economy fare flying in the U.S.
- Baggage: Get a carry-on bag and personal item for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag
- Seat Selection: Available for a fee, starting at $10-12. Otherwise, seats are automatically assigned.
- Boarding: Final boarding group (Group 9).
- 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.
Get a Free Checked Bag and Priority Boarding with American Co-Branded Credit Cards
Co-branded airline credit cards can be a powerful weapon to beat basic economy on any carrier. And with American, you’ve got two options that give you identical benefits.
The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard and Barclay’s AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard both get you a free checked bag on any domestic flight – along with up to eight other travelers booked on the same itinerary.
And unlike some other airline co-branded cards, you don’t need to pay for your flight with the card to get the benefit – it automatically applies once the card is attached to your AAdvantage account.
And that’s huge, as checked bags cost $30 each way for domestic flights within the U.S. The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard‘s annual fee of $99 is waived for the first year, which means you have a full year to take advantage of free baggage before paying the fee.
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The AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard’s annual fee of $99 isn’t waived for the first year. But even at that price, it could pay for itself after checking bags on just two round-trip flights each year.
Apply Here for the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard® (full disclosure: this is not an affiliate link)
But if you’re living the carry-on life, you need overhead bin space. And considering basic economy fares on American board in the final Group 9, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it. But both co-branded cards also move you all the way up to Group 5 even when flying basic economy.
How to Pick a Seat Flying American Basic Economy
One of the biggest drawbacks of any basic economy fare is that you don’t get to select your seat. Airlines warn you that your seat will be automatically assigned, meaning you likely won’t get a spot next to your child or companion.
But as with all airlines, that’s not exactly the case when flying American basic economy. There’s still a way to pick a seat – for a fee.
Starting exactly seven days before departure, American allows even basic economy flyers to manage their reservation online and pay for a seat assignment. These fees will vary widely by flight, but they’re pretty reasonable, typically starting at $12 for a middle seat and just $13 for an aisle or window seat.
Just beware that if your basic economy fare isn’t a nonstop flight, you’ll have to pay separately for each segment of the trip.
But don’t count on getting a better seat for free by talking to a gate agent shortly before departure – a favorite trick among frequent flyers. You still have to pay up to move to a better, empty seat before boarding. Of course, this may vary by agent. And if your flight is full, you’re out of luck.
So if you’re not willing to roll the dice with the seat lottery (or waiting to check-in for your flight in hopes of being assigned a better seat by American), you’re probably better off ponying up for a seat right when that seven-day window opens.
Basic economy fares are a pain, and American Airlines is no exception. But with the right tools, credit cards, and knowledge, you can make them less painful and beat basic economy on American.