New Internal Info About American Airlines Basic Economy Fares

American Airlines announced details of its Basic Economy fares about six weeks ago and started selling them a week and a half ago.

These are the key elements — new restrictions on the lowest priced tickets:

  • Last group to board, no full sized carry on allowed (“personal item only”).
  • No residual ticket value for changes, no same day changes or standby, use it or lose it.
  • Seat assignments at check-in or for an extra charge 48 hours before travel.
  • No upgrades.
  • 100% of redeemable miles and elite qualifying dollars (which are earned based on fare), but only 50% elite qualifying miles and 50% elite qualifying segments.
  • No re-accommodation on other airlines if your flight goes mechanical, and bottom of the list for automatic re-accommodation on other American flights.

Elite frequent flyers still get priority boarding, and that lets them bring on a full-sized carry on bag.

JonNYC tweets some new internal information about American’s basic economy fares. He says this is information he “*believe[s]* to be accurate.”

There’s a couple of things in here I didn’t know.

  • If American cancels your flight, they will not put you on another airline if you purchased a Basic Economy fare. Elites are apparently exempt from this restriction.

  • It’s possible to ‘buy up’ to a more expensive coach fare, and avoid Basic Economy restrictions post-purchase, if you say you weren’t aware of what you were buying. This might be a more credible claim if you’ve booked through something other than an American Airlines channel.

Be careful out there with these Basic Economy fares. You can get the airline’s co-brand credit card and you’ll have priority boarding, avoiding the carry on bag restriction. And then you can pay for a seat assignment 48 hours from departure — including buying a Main Cabin Extra seat.

But these aren’t a ‘deal’ they’re a way to get you to spend more money than you were spending on the cheapest tickets, by making those cheap tickets less of a good deal.

Fundamentally American (and United) think they’re going to make more money by making their product less attractive. They expect you’ll then give them more money to avoid their least expensive product. Of course Delta’s cheapest fares still allow carry on bags, and Southwest even offers checked bags free.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The last one, what does “choosing a reroute” mean? Does that include an alternate flight on the same routing, or does it only refer to changing a connection point or opting for a co-terminal?

    If they change my 7 am departure to an ungodly 5 am, I may not be able to move to the 8 am instead? Or worse, if they change my 1 hour connection to a below-MCT 30 minutes, my only option might be a refund?

  2. From everything I’ve seen so far I have to agree with your take on this. Their announced motivation of competing with Spirit and the like is nonsense. Everything they have done and announced so far makes them less competitive with Spirit, not more. If you’re not going to get any level of service, you might as well fly with Spirit, which remains much cheaper.

    What could compete with Spirit, if that’s what they really meant to do, is offering a deep (not a thoroughly modest) discount for Basic Economy at a price well below the previous regular fare, and an attractive options package available at a non discounted price; i.e., the level of service that existed a month ago. As is, all the incentive is for existing AA or UA passengers to try Spirit instead. I think they’re smart enough to realize this, and they’re betting enough people will pay the upcharge to have a reasonable level of service to compensate for the passengers lost. Your line that they think they’ll make more money by making their product less attractive rings true. We do need to push back.

  3. I can usually see things like this from the airline’s point of view as well as my own, but I can’t figure out how they think this will help them overall. Sure, people like us might handle it ok, but what about the once a year vacation flyers?

    I realize those aren’t your profit centers, but do you really want to deal with all of those bad reviews, people complaining about you to their friends, etc. that this will cause? Not to mention the employees that will have to explain this at check-in to irate families trying to go to Disney or whatever.

    I can see tons of negatives for them, but very few positives.

  4. Just to be sure– I have the Citi AA Plat card, so I can have a full-size carry-on?

  5. Gary,
    Typo on line with JonNYC. “International” should be “internal”. Take care….

  6. @Ken – the way they restrict carry on bags on basic economy fares is to give you the last boarding group. Anyone with higher boarding groups can bring on a carry on. And co-brand cards from both american and united come with priority boarding.

  7. Ahh, I see. So the basic Y still allows the same size carry-on, but you’ll likely have to gate check since there won’t be any overhead space left by the time you’re allowed to board?

  8. How on earth are customers going to know before purchasing if their seat comes with a free carry-on or not? This is a crappy move, AA. There dam_ well better be some verbage when the tickets are mixed with inclusive tickets on Kayak, Travelocity, etc.

  9. “Fundamentally American (and United) think they’re going to make more money by making their product less attractive.”

    Who cares, 85% of people fly once a year only anyways. Business travelers who bring in the most money are not booking basic economy.

  10. @Tony. That’s not necessarily true. I’m unsure how my company, which is quite price conscious, will handle this. I’m worried.

    I thought at first my best bet might be the bag charge argument. But I’m platinum and have the credit card so that argument doesn’t fly.

    Funny – by exempting us from the basic economy bag charge, they’ve actually done some of us a disservice.

  11. @Ken. I believe AA’s basic Y does NOT include a carry-on (eg rollaboard) bag — only an under the seat “personal item”. In theory, anyone boarding in the final group is not entitled to take on a carry-on bag even if the bins have room. The only way a basic Y pax can be exempt from this is to get into an earlier boarding group…via having the AA credit card or status (or maybe purchasing Main Cabin Extra seat??).

  12. So if basic Y doesn’t include a carry-on and no CC offers a carry-on what does it matter when you’re boarding if you’re not allowed a carry-on anyways?

    Gary is always saying that a CC will get you a carry-on but no CC lists a carry-on as a benefit, only a checked bag.

  13. @Ken because no carry on is tied to the last boarding group which is basic economy only. the credit card gets you priority boarding. and priority boarding gets you a carry on.

  14. Ahh, I didn’t realize priority boarding includes a carry-on. That was the missing link. Thanks as always Gary.

  15. Thank you Gary for the easy-to-read and clear interpretation of the new AA class of service.
    As more & more typical, AA didn’t make it obvious what the full implications of choosing Basic Economy were to the end-consumer.

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