WATCH OUT: American Airlines is Now Selling Basic Economy Fares And Not All Customers Will Know

American announced last month that dreaded basic economy fares were coming.

  • 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.

These fares are now on sale for travel starting March 1. These are not new lower fares. These are new restrictions on the lowest fares American already offers.

Here are the 10 launch markets although the cities these fares are in will grow:

You’ll see a simple search for Charlotte – Philadelphia shows Basic Economy clearly. Surrounding days where the lowest fare is higher than $133 aren’t offering Basic Economy.

They provide the restrictions on Basic Economy fares right on that page. Click and get a popup:

Note though that this is misinformation, while Basic Economy customers do not get to bring on a full sized carry on, there is no policing where you put your personal item. You absolutely can store it in the overhead bin if there’s room. Once you’re on the plane your “Scarlet B” goes away, flight attendants aren’t supposed to treat you any differently than other passengers in back.

If you choose the Basic Economy fare, American will warn you. Delta was criticized for this, calling it “hate selling” but this is exactly what American should do — make sure that customers know what they’re buying (and try to get customers to spend more).

American’s implementation seems perfectly reasonable but I was interested to see how it’s being handled through online travel agency sites like Expedia. American has the good fortunate here that Basic Economy capabilities have been built out since Delta paved the way.

When I search for the lowest fares, there’s no warning about what I’m buying on Expedia.

Above the fold there’s a little note that this is Basic Economy, however I’m congratulated not warned.

Scroll down to book and it’s clear there are more restrictions, but without digging in the only notable one is lack of seat choice.

Looking at the details there’s a bit more, but they reveal you can’t have priority boarding — not that you’re last to board and nothing about inability to bring on a full-sized carry on.

I think customers doing their bookings through Online Travel Agency sites are going to be doing a lot of complaining at the gate, and swearing off the airline in the future. American’s brand is really in the hands of the sales channels here, and it’s not being well-represented.

Former Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza used to say that nearly all of the complaints the airline received came from customers booking through other channels, not through Spirit’s website, because they were setting customer expectations appropriately. He seemed to revel in customer complaints, they underscored how cheap a product Spirit was offering.

But American Airlines does have a brand, and customers aren’t being told through Expedia the full weight of the restrictions on these fares.

Right now these fares are only available in non-stop markets. Perhaps it’s not worth connecting on Delta to get both the cheapest fare and a carry on bag. As these fares spread to routes where there’s greater legacy airline competition we’ll see how American really does with them. At that point literally no one should buy one of these fares from American, and probably shouldn’t buy up to a more expensive one on American either.

Remember that co-brand credit card holders and elite frequent flyers still get priority boarding and full-sized carry ons when booking these fares.

Update: Expedia now appears to have added ‘no carry on bags’ to their list of restrictions on this fare. I don’t think the comparison of fare types is as clear there as it is at, but at least the information of what’s being sold is available during the booking process.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. And what of people buying tickets for other people (parents buying for kids, etc.) — a lot of misinformation could arise even if every seller disclosed as much as

  2. I don’t see the “misinformation.” It says one item that FITS under the seat, not STORED under the seat.

    The criteria is about volume, which is consistent with the policy regarding no full carry on.

  3. If a customer buys basic economy via an OTA, is it possible for AA to send an automated e-mail afterwards which spells-out exactly what they just purchased, and includes a link to cancel their booking within 24hrs?

  4. If you are an AA Elite, you still get to preboard, and there will be room overhead for your carryon. After which you can take your seat in the middle of a 5 across row.

    At least AA scrapped the originally proposed title for this: “peon class”…

  5. Which fare bucket is this? I have a work trip coming up and I fear I’m going to have to educate our (Australian) corporate travel agent about this.

  6. I have the AA credit card so my only real problem with these fares would be the lack of a seat assignment. But that is a big one. I would only consider these fares on planes that don’t have a middle seat E-175, CRJs etc… As it is, if you don’t pay more for a “preferred seat,” you are going to be in the back of the plane regardless and either a window or aisle seat is fine for me.

  7. LOL. They might as well include “No access to restroom.” Policing bins will be as offensive and outright rude. Watch for more officious authoritarian bullying, more frequent outraged passengers removed from flights. Get plenty of video to make the Little Hitlers famous and rightly embarrass the idiots behind this. What’s next? Strapping to backboards? This was actually proposed once as “standing fares.”

    These airlines I flew for 40 years are Dead. To. Me. I’m getting full miles on Virgin and Alaska and going out of my way to fly them, will even pay more.

  8. @Greg – did you actually read Gary’s article? No one’s going to be policing bins (any more than they already do), because access to bins isn’t affected by Basic Economy fares. What is affected is the size and number of carry-ons allowed – which will be policed at the boarding via the “scarlet B.”

    Virgin and Alaska are nice little carriers for the limited combined route network they serve.

    The more I read about this Basic Economy fares, the less concerned I am about them. Actually coming to think they are a good thing. I’ll never buy one, of course, but I’m happy to have others buying them.

  9. I don’t remember Alaska ever being like that. They picked up the cool PSA vibe in California and were taken to heart here for most of the 30 or so years I’ve flown them with great customer service that always makes it right. I just flew them to Hawaii and then Virgin to Florida and I didn’t feel cramped or nickled. The Hawaii flight went fast due to streaming 3 movies on my laptop, and when the streaming didn’t work on the return flight they gave me a $10 (smaller screen) tablet for free to watch the same content. Similarly on the Virgin flight where they are fighting against older hardware the TV’s and power cut out halfway through the flight and they really hustled to try to reboot it, failed and gave us $25 on account the next day. When I called to ask about losing the internet due to laptop not charging they put $75 more in my account and told me to call Gogo to get my Day pass refunded (I didn’t have the heart to tell them it was comped). This after Alaska had dumped 10,000 miles in FF account just for visiting their merger site. So what I see so far is the same busting their ass to please people. Maybe they will struggle some with old Virgin metal but they didn’t buy them for the planes only the route system that busts them out of the West Coast in a big way. Watch for them to become the West coast favorite. Their only drawback is the name limitation but that itself has come to mean Service. As to whether they’ll sell out the meaning of a mile like the other creeps did, I’ve learned not to underestimate them. They don’t have a Doug Parker creep culture to begin with.

  10. Oops, see how I conflated the two airlines treatment of me above as though they are already one without realizing it?. This is because they are a close culture match to begin with. It doesn’t need to be translated or duplicated. It’s called customer service as a first priority. It’s to engrained to be lost, just like it’s too lost to ever again be seen culturally on the Big 3.

  11. The big problem is that the OTA’s don’t allow purchase of regular economy. For me, I have no reason to use Expedia, but I have plenty to use the Chase and Amex and Visa Infinite (Ritz) portals. I don’t mind the upsell to regular economy that much, but it’s not even an option at the places I need to get my tickets from.

    Boo to Delta for paving the way here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *