What If You Purchase A Basic Economy Fare By Mistake, Or You Change Your Mind?

There’s no mistaking it, we are deep into the world of Basic Economy fares on the Big 3 airlines.  Delta was the first into the fray and has been offering these fares for quite a while.  American and United have jumped into the fray with their own versions.

United Airlines came out with their version, and it was a bit worse than expected.  Highlighted pain points include:

  • No seat assignments.
  • No changes.
  • You won’t earn any elite credit.
  • No carry-on bag.

American Airlines took a slightly different approach with their version of Basic Economy.  Some of their “highlights” include:

  • Seat assignments available at check-in.
  • Some elite-qualifying credit.
  • Elite members can bring a carry-on bag.
  • Severely limited options in case of delays/cancellations.  Essentially, AA won’t move you to another carrier when there’s a problem.

What If You Didn’t Mean To Purchase Basic Economy?

This question was posed to me last week.  I was writing about the very painful consequence of booking an award ticket using your credit card points.  Summer brought up a really good point, that you might not be able to avoid purchasing Basic Economy with programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi Thank You Points.  A reader asked a question and it really also got me thinking, “What if you just made a mistake?”

I posed both questions to a contact at American Airlines.  Here’s the first answer I received:

For both questions, the main thing to remember is that customers can always ask for a refund within 24 hours or purchase. So that’s their best window to pick something different if they have changed their mind.

Beyond the 24-hour refund, for #1, the answer is that it depends on Citi’s policies. I don’t know the details of Citi’s rewards – you should probably check with them on that.

For #2, if a customer changes their mind after the 24-hour refund window, customers can call AA Reservations to pay to buy a higher fare on that same flight, and they will pay the fare difference with the lowest current fare.

What they’re saying is that if you book through a 3rd party, AA isn’t going to bail you out if you end up with a Basic Economy ticket.  On the second answer, it seems like AA will have flexibility both on whether you just made a mistake or decided later you need more flexibility.  I wanted to make sure that option #2 above didn’t involve a change fee.  A second reply from American Airlines confirmed they would only charge the difference in fare, not a change fee.

The Final Two Pennies

I’m not entirely sure AA will know how you purchased a ticket once it’s purchased.  If it’s a revenue ticket, they’d require a new method of payment from you for any additional fare.  That means smart travelers should still be able to use a flexible currency like Chase Ultimate Rewards to book a Basic Economy ticket on American Airlines, then contact AA to pay the difference in fare.

You should definitely research that fare difference ahead of time.  And, fares are always subject to change.  That means you’re better off doing this within 24 hours of booking a ticket so you can take advantage of a free cancellation if things just aren’t going to work out for you.  I’ve never booked a ticket using a flexible currency, so I’m not sure how a refund process would work.  Guess I have some research to do for another post!

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9 Comments

  1. The buy-up from Basic to a regular economy fare is actually pretty customer-friendly. One can only hope that UA has a similar policy in place, even if they charged a change fee + fare difference.

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