New American Airlines Basic Economy Seating Policy

Filed Under: American

American Airlines continues to roll back restrictions on their basic economy fares, making them less punitive…

What is basic economy?

For those of you not familiar with basic economy, this is something we’ve seen become increasingly common among US airlines the past few years. The idea is that the cheapest economy fares are considered “basic,” meaning they come with lots of restrictions.

This is intended to better segment the market — these are good for those looking for the cheapest fares, while those who value some more services will be willing to “buy up” to the regular economy fares.

While airlines tried to market these as being good for consumers, that wasn’t the case — this was clearly a money grab.

American’s new basic economy seat assignment option

Historically one of the biggest restrictions for American Airlines basic economy fares has involved limits on being able to assign seats:

  • Initially American didn’t let basic economy passengers even pay to assign a seat in advance
  • Then they started allowing basic economy passengers to pay for seat assignments up to seven days in advance

With the latest policy (as noted by @JTGenter), American is now letting basic economy passengers pay for seat assignments at the time of booking. This essentially lifts one of the biggest restrictions associated with basic economy.

I can see the pros and cons to this:

  • On the one hand, if you’re making basic economy more “a la carte,” then it eliminates the incentive to buy up to a “regular” economy fare
  • On the other hand, if passengers are willing to pay for seat assignments in advance, they might as well take that revenue

Basic economy passengers can now pay for Main Cabin Extra seats

What are the remaining American Airlines basic economy restrictions?

When American first introduced basic economy fares they didn’t let those passengers take full size carry-ons. They reversed that policy in mid-2018.

What restrictions does that leave for American Airlines basic economy passengers?

  • No ticket changes or cancellations (though that restriction is temporarily being waived)
  • No upgrades (which is most valuable for elite members)
  • Limited elite qualifying mileage earning
  • Boarding last
  • Technically no free seat assignments in advance, though you can pay, and the reality is that even with “regular” economy fares, American greatly limits which seats they’ll assign for free

Basic economy fares aren’t as strict as in the past

Bottom line

American’s basic economy fares are less restrictive than in the past, now that you can pay for seat assignments on these tickets, even at the time of booking.

I imagine this would make the occasional flyer more willing to book a basic economy fare. Whether or not that’s good or bad for the airline is something I’m not sure of, though…

  1. Why, really, would anyone fly now?

    I was aboard Air France’s last Paris-Toronto flight on March 22nd. (The empty A350 was ferried back to Paris immediately after we landed.) There were seven of us in Business Class. The cabin crew, flying CDG-YYZ-CDG same duty-time, were all volunteers. I don’t expect to fly again for months; maybe not even before next year. We closed-up our French house, not having any idea when we’ll see it again.

    So who is it who’s interested in taking advantage of these ridiculously cheap fares? Everything is shut-down. Even here in rural Nova Scotia, nothing is open except a few grocery stores.

    Just STAY HOME, folks!

  2. @SuperVC10 –

    If you were flying from Europe as late as March 22, you’re absolutely no better than the people you’re berating.

    You should’ve left literally weeks before that. On March 22, community spread in France was rampant, and the government had long since imposed strict restrictions on movement.

    Extremely selfish and irresponsible behavior. And then you have the nerve to lecture others.

  3. Now if only they would block access to seats forward of the wing for psgrs on basic economy fares. It’s fine if they want to pay in advance for a seat assignment but the seats that are offered should be restricted to the back of the plane.

  4. I normally don’t like to speculate on greed, ethics, intent, etc.

    Perhaps this was a preemptive move based on public outcry about families being separated or other “split” issues that can occur as a result of this fare. The general public is really skilled at buying low and then assuming or hoping for empathetic exceptions. Now, AA gave them yet another chance, and at an income benefit to AA.

  5. @Matt Fortini

    We actually did try to return earlier, but Air France would not honor our Business Class tickets, which were booked for April 01. They said the tickets had been purchased using a promotional fare that did not allow for changes and we would have to buy new tickets, or wait until April 01 to travel. Not wanting to blow-off some 2,500 euros, we returned to our house. On March 19 Air France advised us by email that their last flight to Toronto would be on March 22 and we could use our April 01 tickets for that flight.

    It was a confusing time; everything was changing from day-to-day. Trudeau asked Canadians to come home and we were nervous about France closing its borders, which meant we might over-stay our allowable time in the country. We wish we had done some things differently, but hindsight is always 20/20.

    Oh, and the “strict restrictions on movement”, the Attestation de Déplacement Dérogatoire, was not imposed by Macron until noon on March 17.

  6. They should also limit complimentary MCE alcoholic beverages to one, although that wouldn’t be good for my mini collection…

  7. @Super VC10

    Why do you have to come on here and lecture and berate others? You’re not doing anyone a favour..

    You criticise others for “taking advantage of these ridiculously cheap fares”. However you yourself waited up until 22 March to fly home just because you didn’t want to pay a change fee (=selfishness). Hypocrite.

  8. @David

    If you think by writing “Just STAY HOME folks” I’m lecturing and berating others, then let me repeat myself: Just STAY HOME folks.

    The last thing the United States needs right now is for people to be flying from coast to coast just because airfares are ridiculously low. Sorry if that reality offends you.

  9. @Super VC10 you don’t need to tell others how to act. You’re not talking to children in a classroom. Mind your own business.

  10. Once again another post designed to be informative is dragged into the mud. Lucky is probably wondering right now what to post that won’t cause a massive controversy?

  11. Hi to all of our fellow stay-at-home not-too-frequent-at-this-time flyers! I guess we can’t blame (or stop) AA for wanting to add some extra income… but I personally find it ABSOLUTELY DEPLORABLE that Doug & Co. will allow BE ticket holders to buy up the few MainCabinExtra seats… which are one of the very few seating perks that we as “Very Frequent Flyers” might get on a percentage of domestic flights, if one is not flying up in J for the day!

    Without wanting to complain (as it has little value), it seems like the most foolish new way to erode the remaining loyalty of this of us who fly our buns off, to remain EP year after year after year again. What a shame! Yet is anyone at AA reading things here – and then maybe listening??

  12. Its thankful the means to travel still exist.
    AA thank you! My favorite airline in any class. I travel alot and sometimes just need to catch an available seat to get to destination…

    Many want to benefit at home on some goods and services but it’s clear that without essential travel and commitments by a few, nothing will be possible.

    No matter how serious the scare of COVID19, some essential travel will help. The world will never come to a stand still and what kills people will create the survivors to adapt.

    To survive we will need s minimal exposure to adapt. We cant hide in houses from nature.

    We cant change nature.

  13. @Super VC 10
    Stop with the pity party and lectures,

    “Air France would not honor our Business Class tickets”

    Oh my, I bet you didn’t ask about any of the available seats in……. Economy

  14. Super VC10 is correct about all of us staying at home as much as possible to help ourselves and others. He explained his flight situation and recommendations evenhandedly, and is a breath of fresh air here among frequent and unnecessary negative comments about others. Also, speaking of fresh air, I’m envious that he lives in rural Nova Scotia!

  15. Frankly, in disagreement with many of you, I find it utterly disgusting that AA and all airlines have turned travel into a caste system operation. No offense to first class, business class, and other premium seat fliers, but Basic Economy, and any Economy for that matter, is DISGUSTING. It’s billed as “cheap,” for those who want to save money. In reality, it’s inhumane to expect any human being to travel like an animal, stuffed into tight, unhealthy spaces breathing everyone else’s exhalation. When the airlines WAKE UP and provide “customer service” and stop pocketing money, plus receiving free government money, then airlines can once again receive some praise, or at least some favorable comments. Until then, they’re garbage!

    You would think with this terrible, catastophic pandemic of the Coronavirus, COVID-19, that the airline CEOs would realize what they’ve been doing is wrong, wrong, wrong (squeezing seats closer and closer together). Most people have learned some things from the Coronavirus, but it seems the airlines haven’t learn a thing. It seems they are deaf to the term “social distancing” and clean environments. But they sure know the term “money, money, money.”

  16. As a long time Executive Platinum some of you folks need to get your ass up off your shoulders and lighten up!

  17. Maybe this is just a temporary policy during COVID-19? If someone needs to travel, I would suggest not paying for a seat assignment for Basic Economy on flights before June, due to loads being so low.

  18. Someone mention exceptions to boarding group if you hold the AA Citi Advantage card. I have the AA Barclay Advantage card so would that offer exactly what Citi AA card offers?

  19. Thank you American Airlines ground, ticket, and flight crews for getting me back to the States from Barcelona Spain on March 19th. Left in the lurch by BA but American came through. Very grateful. Sad that plane was so empty with so many folks trying to get home!

  20. The article mentions the option to “buy up” from Basic Economy. I’m pretty sure you’re stuck, once you buy a B fare. No buy ups, only nickel and dime ($ and $$) add ons are allowed. I had a client buy a B fare for my flight recently…..never again.

  21. I guess we’ll have to get used to more and more of the immature piling-on like is being done to Super VC10 in these forums. Some people need some online social distancing.

    I see this “Basic Economy” change as an improvement from AA. While I still loath the entire idea of “Basic Economy”, as long as it is a part of the mix, making this little change is welcome. I’m still not going to fly in any part of economy, so it won’t affect me, but I know of friends and family that will benefit from it.

  22. KR – I’m sure many of us are as disgusted as you are about the profiteering caste in travel, but that’s unchecked capitalism for ya. As long as the majority of US citizens are so uber-sensitive about the C(ommie) word that they can’t tolerate any government guidance on business activity, sensitive to the point of misguidedly calling Sanders “socialist,” you have no hope of climbing out of this hellhole. You have my sympathy and regard.

    Speaking of the C word, right now a lot of Westerners are behaving like red guards of Cultural Revolution, going around the web policing and berating others, many of them wielding inaccurate info as weapon. ( Just think, how well did we know AIDS in the first years of its outbreak in NYC? Patient zero? HA!) Super VC10 is just another one of them. Anyway, this pandemic is shining a light on that darkness, and I find that really hopeful.

  23. OK we are doing “shelter in place” in Dallas today so I HAVE SOME TOME TO READ THE BLOGS. Wow, all I can say is there seems to be a trend (maybe a rule) that says if something can be misconstrued then immediately assume the worst and send off a vitriolic reply. So the discussion was interesting not because of the AA policy but the lesson in human nature as we all deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. I myself am a frequent traveler and I have had to cancel three trips so far. I can share a little of the pain in each story. On the other hand I would like to see the fares on AA as low as possible as a consumer. And, yet I’m glad that some people pay 5 times what I have to pay for a Basic Economy seat. Honestly, The whole airline pricing model is insane in my opinion. But, we just have to learn to deal with it, simile and move on.

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