What is American Airlines Basic Economy?

What is AA Basic Economy and why should you care?

What is American Airlines Basic Economy? + main

You may have heard about Basic Economy, but what does it actually mean? With regular economy, economy plus, and now basic economy, booking a flight can be confusing and cause unnecessary headaches.

I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the American Airlines Basic Economy product in the next few minutes.

What is Basic Economy?

American Airlines advertises their Basic Economy as their lowest main cabin fare to destinations around the world. It was created as a direct response to the cheap fares offered by Spirit and Frontier, allowing American to compete on similar routes, but it turns out there is more to Basic Economy than you may know.

Oftentimes people think that Basic Economy should be avoided at all costs. I have personally found that this is not always the case, but you need to have a good handle of the ins-and-outs of Basic Economy.

American Airlines Basic Economy Overview

Basic Economy restrictions vary based on final destination. There are two restriction buckets:

  • Flights to/from the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico & Caribbean (excluding Alaska, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Cuba, Haiti, El Salvador and Panama)
  • Flights to/from Europe

Baggage Restrictions

Regardless of the destinations, AA Basic Economy fares do not include any free checked bags.

The carry-on baggage allowance is the same as any other economy fare. You are allowed to bring one carry-on bag and one personal item. Remember that there is a chance that your bag will need to be checked if the overhead bins are full. I always suggest keeping fragile items and important documents/medications in your smaller personal item that fits under the seat in front of you.

Seat Selection Restrictions

One major drawback to Basic Economy is that you will have to pay an extra fee to choose a seat. Otherwise, seats will be randomly assigned for free at check-in. The dollar amount of the seat selection fee varies.

  • Flights to/from the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico & Caribbean allow you to choose a seat 48 hours before departure.
  • Flights to/from Europe allow you to choose a seat at the time of booking.

I have heard there are sometimes exceptions made if you are traveling with small children, but you will have to call a reservations agent for assistance.

No Upgrade Eligibility

Booking a Basic Economy ticket also means that you will not be able to upgrade your ticket with AAdvantage miles, 500-mile upgrade coupons, or cash. I would not necessarily count this as a major disadvantage as upgrades rarely clear these days, or cost an excessive amount of miles/cash.

Boarding Group

As you might imagine, Basic Economy ticket holders board in the last group. This often means that there is limited overhead bin space for your carry-on bags and you will sometimes have to gate-check them (for free) to your destination.

Basic Economy Work Arounds

Now that we've covered the basics, there are a few workarounds that can help you 'hack' the Basic Economy experience for the better. These apply to two specific groups which you may or may not already be a part of:

  • AAdvantage credit holders: If you have one of American's many credit cards, you will get one free checked bag on basic economy flights to/from the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico & Caribbean. You will still have to pay a fee to check a bag on flights to/from Europe. AAdvantage credit card holders also receive priority boarding regardless of ticket type, which means you will be able to board in either Group 4 or 5.

  • AAdvantage elite status members: Elite status benefits for both checked bags and boarding groups apply regardless of ticket type. Keep in mind that Basic Economy tickets are not eligible for upgrades or same-day flight change benefits.

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