Here’s Why You Need To Be Careful With American Airlines New Basic Economy Fares

a plane flying in the sky

American Airlines became the last of the Big 3 airlines to announce the details of their Basic Economy offering this week.  In case you missed the details, here’s a chart that outlines the American Airlines offering:

Basic Economy Details

You can read all the details on the AA website.


I think American Airlines benefits from being last to the table.  They were able to see what Delta and United contemplated.  They were also able to see some of the public feedback.  United got kicked in the teeth for some of the attributes of their Basic Economy offering.  No upgrades, no elite-qualifying miles and no carry-on bags.

I wrote about my opinion on how American Airlines should approach Basic Economy just about a year ago.  To summarize:

I would give elite members the ability to select a seat on these new stripped down fares.

I would offer a product with elite-qualifying miles but no EQPs.  If American had a spending threshold like DL and UA, I would count the dollars towards the spending required to achieve elite status, but wouldn’t award any EQPs.

I would severely restrict the ability to change or cancel those flights but leave the standby policy alone.  In the case of American Airlines, I would consider not allowing confirmed standby, but potentially just “plain ‘ol standby”.

I would allow elite members to receive complimentary upgrades on these fares.  I guess you could prioritize members on these fares at the bottom of the list for upgrades in their elite status category, but I think that’s just window dressing.

American Airlines didn’t give elites the ability to select a seat on these fares.  Looking back on it, I think this was wishful thinking on my part.  They did include elite-qualifying miles, although at a rate of 50% discount coach fares.  That’s better than nothing, and better than what United is offering.  But, it’s less than what Delta is offering (full elite-qualifying miles, or MQMs in the Delta world).

American is allowing elite members to bring on a carry-on bag as well as a personal item.  But, they severely restricted the ability to change the flights, and left no path for elite members to qualify for complimentary upgrades.

Here’s Why You Need To Be More Careful (And Why I’ll Never Buy an AA Basic Economy Fare)

View From The Wing is the one that pointed me in this direction.  He got further confirmation from America Airlines.  The key you really need to be aware of is when things go wrong on your flight.  Regardless of whether it’s a mechanical, crew, air traffic control or weather issue, American is severely restricting your ability to find another flight:

Update: American has now confirmed to me that basic economy customers will not be re-accommodated on other airlines, and will be at the bottom of the list for automatic re-accommodation as well. However basic economy “B” inventory will not need to be available in order to be moved onto another flight.

This is my biggest issue as a business traveler.  At least a handful of times each year I end up having a mechanical delay or other non-weather issue with a flight.  The very first thing I do when I see the first sign of an issue is start looking for alternate flights, even on other airlines.  American is saying if you buy their cheapest fares you won’t be able to take a flight on another airline.  And, you’ll be at the bottom of the list for another flight on American.

Now, American already has less partners to move you to. Since 2015, they no longer have the necessary interline agreement to allow them to rebook you on a Delta flight.  But, there are still other options (United being the biggest).  American is saying you won’t be able to use that option if you purchase Basic Economy.

The Final Two Pennies

Lack of backup flights is the biggest reason I don’t fly low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier often.  I did fly Frontier a few months ago (the flight was fine, though there are definitely seats I wouldn’t want to sit on that plane).  It was a fringe situation where I didn’t have to be in a meeting when I landed.  I also had backup choices on United the following morning.  It ended up saving my company $400.

Basic Economy won’t be that big of a cost savings.  Think more like $50-$100 savings on a round-trip ticket, though that’s just a guess at this point.  If you’ve got time-sensitive plans when you get to your destination, you really want to consider something other than Basic Economy on American Airlines.

The post American Airlines Announced Their Basic Economy Details.  Here’s Why You Need To Be Careful was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. Good points to know.
    I think the first few months of the new fare will result in very bad press and public opinion when folks book the basic economy, show up at the gate big overhead bags and have to pay $25 to gate check them. It will be a rude awakening for some I think.

    1. DaninMCI, Spirit gets the most complaints for a reason, all of their fees. I think it could be worse for AA, in that I think Spirit does a reasonably good job disclosing their fees. AA has customers that aren’t used to paying those fees. You hit the nail on the head with the $25 gate-check fee. Messaging is going to be very key.

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