American Airlines is the most recent US airline to announce “basic economy” fares. Legacy domestic airlines continue to cite increased competition from low cost competitors as the reason behind these basic economy fares. American Airlines basic economy fares mirror those offered by United and Delta, which offer reduced benefits and increased restrictions. These basic economy fares will earn elite qualifying miles, segments and dollars, but at a reduced rate.
American Airlines Basic Economy Fare Basics
American Airlines will begin selling basic economy fares in select markets starting in late February 2017. Passengers who purchase basic economy fares will “still get a comfortable seat in the Main Cabin and enjoy free snacks, soft drinks and inflight entertainment,” but restrictions include the following:
- Limit, one personal item that fits under the seat (no access to overhead bins)
- Seats assigned at check-in
- Fees to choose a specific seat
- Not eligible for upgrades
- No flight changes or refunds
- Board in the last group (Group 9 per AA’s latest boarding order)
If a passenger purchases an American Airlines basic economy fare and brings a full size carryon to the gate, a fee of $25 will be charged to gate check the bag. Seats can be selected within 48 hours prior to the scheduled departure, but a fee will apply.
Basic economy fares will earn AAdvantage Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) based on the price of the fare purchases (excluding government taxes & fees) and will earn Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS) and Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) at a 50% rate. AAdvantage members will only earn .5 segments and .5 miles per mile flown when purchasing basic economy fares.
Basic Economy Exceptions For AAdvantage Elites and AAdvantage Credit Card Holders
AAdvantage elite members and eligible AAdvantage credit cardholders will receive the following benefits when purchasing basic economy fares:
- Carryon one personal item (no larger than 18 x 14 x 8 in.)
- Bring a full sized carry on with access to the overhead bin (no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 in.)
- Retain priority or preferred boarding privileges
- Retain checked bag benefits
Based on the information provided on American’s website, AAdvantage elite members will be required to pay an additional fee to pre-select seats. Passengers will also not be able to standby on earlier flights when purchasing basic economy fares.
My Issue With American Airlines Basic Economy Fares
Because I travel for work and am often required to purchase the most inexpensive flight available. I see myself getting stuck purchasing basic economy fares in the future. These new basic economy fares eliminate many of the benefits I value most.
The first being the ability to standby on earlier flights. I use this benefit on nearly every trip I take. It allows me to pick the latest flight in the day, but return home whenever I am able, without paying a fee. Usually I am able to purchase a very inexpensive ticket late in the day and standby on a more favorable flight earlier in the day.
The second being the ability to select seats (especially main cabin extra seats) prior to departure. I personally do not mind sitting in the middle seat every once in a while, but could see myself becoming annoyed quickly if my only option were to pay an additional fee to select a non-middle seat. This is already an issue for non-elites due to American’s shady seat assignments. I can only imagine it getting worse with basic economy fares.
Lastly, I find it a little ridiculous that American is reducing the EQM and EQS earning rates when purchasing basic economy fares. Passengers are already penalized for purchasing low cost tickets through the EQD spend requirement. Now they will not even earn a full segment when purchasing a basic economy fare!
I understand, in theory, why American Airlines basic economy fares are being introduced as competition increases among domestic carries in the US. I would also understand if the new basic economy fares were cheaper than the current offering of regular economy tickets. Unfortunately all American is doing is reduced benefits and increased restrictions with the lowest priced tickets. Most likely the airline will increase the prices of tickets majority of travelers will end up buying. Sure, it makes sense from a financial point of view as it increases margins, but it continues to upset those travelers who remain loyal to an airline.