Basic economy fares were touted by some airlines as ‘a new lower fare’ but that was never true. American Airlines, in introducing their fares, was actually honest – these were new restrictions on the existing lowest fares. And they served two purposes:
- Get passengers who care about comforts to spend a little more, that’s where the difference between basic and regular economy is $20 – $30
- Segment corporate travelers from leisure travelers, so that businesses still pay a lot more even in an era where Saturday stay and advance purchase requirements are far less common, that’s where the difference between basic and regular economy is hundreds of dollars
Most businesses, though, don’t find it successful to pursue a strategy of profit by making their product worse. When United rolled out their basic economy – more restrictive than Delta’s (no full-sized carry on bag) and before American rolled theirs out – they lost about a hundred million dollars as customers chose other airlines instead.
American found their basic economy offering wasn’t working, too. They – like United – had refused to let Basic Economy customers bring a standard carry on bag onto the plane. However they eliminated that restriction. They didn’t want to push passengers to choose competitors.
Now American is testing what happens when they eliminate the biggest remaining restriction on these fares, the inability to select seats at time of booking.
testing; Basic Econ passengers on short-haul can now buy seats at time of booking in some markets if booking via AA website. Through mid-December.
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) November 20, 2019
if you -don't- do it at time of booking, then, yes– you can do it T-7, that option still open.
"..if seats are not selected during the booking path through https://t.co/JTvP5rc8as , then the current BESH seat rules apply which is 7 days from departure time."
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) November 21, 2019
For non-elite travelers, choosing to buy up from Basic Economy means spending more money for the right to spend more money to select a seat since there are so few seats offered free, and those are often middle seats that’ll be assigned free at check-in to a Basic Economy passenger anyway. Indeed, having seats assigned at check-in often means doing better than a middle when better seats are left.
For many passengers that’s not appealing. And when customers choose the cheaper Basic Economy fare the airline is denying itself seat selection revenue. Already American started letting Basic Economy passengers pay for seat assignments 7 days prior to travel instead of 48 hours out. This test makes it possible to assign seats at booking.
This means basic economy restrictions would be limited to,
- No changes
- Board last, unless you have elite status or a co-brand credit card
- No upgrades
- Only half credit towards elite status
If American does this they’ll pick up more seat selection revenue, fewer customers will be chased away, but much of the encouragement to buy a more expensive coach fare will be lost. Presumably this test allows American to see which factors are greatest – to see whether Basic Economy is really costing them money as currently conceived.