American & British Airways Are Adding Basic Economy On Transatlantic Flights

Filed Under: American

American introduced basic economy early last year — they first rolled it out in 10 markets, and then over the summer they rolled it on virtually all domestic flights. The good news is that basic economy hasn’t worked out quite as well for American and United as they had hoped, as they failed to account for the number of people who would simply book elsewhere when presented with basic economy. Instead they took their customers for granted, and assumed that the only choice customers had was to book basic economy or regular economy, rather than considering them taking their business to Spirit, Southwest, etc.

Today American has announced a pretty significant expansion of basic economy. As of April 1, 2018, transatlantic oneworld airlines (American, British Airways, Finnair, and Iberia) will begin to offer basic economy fares. This will initially roll out on a limited number of routes, so that they can train their airport and reservations teams to make sure they get things right.

Basic economy on transatlantic flights will work slightly differently than on domestic flights. Here’s a chart that explains the differences and similarities:

And here’s the more detailed explanation from American:

  • Boarding: Trans-Atlantic Basic Economy customers, including those originating with a domestic leg, will board in Group 8. Elite customers and eligible AAdvantage® credit card members will continue to receive Priority or preferred boarding even when purchasing this fare.
  • Carry-on Bags: The carry-on bag allowance for all international Main Cabin fares, including trans-Atlantic Basic Economy, is one personal item and one larger carry-on. This is unchanged from international Main Cabin fares today.
  • Checked Bags: Regular Main Cabin fares will continue to include one checked bag for free. A new fee will apply for the first checked bag on trans-Atlantic Basic Economy.
  • Connections: Customers flying on a domestic Basic Economy leg connecting to a trans-Atlantic Basic Economy ticket will travel under the rules of the international ticket, including the carry-on bag allowance.
  • Inflight experience: Regardless of whether they are traveling on a Basic Economy fare or a regular Main Cabin fare, all Main Cabin customers will have the same experience, including the same free entertainment, soft drinks, snacks and meals offered today.
  • Seat assignments: Free seat assignments are made automatically when customers check in. Customers flying trans-Atlantic Basic Economy can purchase a seat assignment at any time.
  • Tickets: Non-refundable. No same-day flight change or same-day standby. However, the tickets are changeable (for a fee), which is different from domestic Basic Economy where changes are not allowed at all.
  • Upgrades: Not permitted, regardless of elite status level.

As you can see, there are a few differences between short-haul and transatlantic basic economy:

  • On transatlantic flights you get a personal item and a carry-on, while on short-haul you only get a personal item
  • On transatlantic flights you can assign a seat in advance for a fee, while on short-haul it’s only assigned at check-in
  • On transatlantic flights you can change your ticket for a fee, while on short-haul no changes are allowed

American’s new transatlantic basic economy fares will feature reduced mileage earning, though American hasn’t yet revealed how reduced the mileage earning will be. If short-haul flights are any indication, those flights offer full redeemable miles and elite qualifying dollars, though only half elite qualifying miles and segments.

American is following Delta’s lead here (as usual), as Delta and their SkyTeam partners introduced similar types of fares late last year.

Lastly, it’s sad that I have to say this, but I have to give American credit for their press release on this. I am so damn sick of airlines announcing basic economy and saying “OMG GREAT NEWS GUYS WE ARE DOING THIS FOR YOU AND IT’S GOING TO BE AMAZING.”

The only potential positive spin American is putting on this is that they are “giving customers a new option for our lowest fares.” That’s a lot less than they (and other airlines) have said in the past. They don’t even pretend the economy experience is good. They simply say everyone gets the same experience: “all Main Cabin customers will have the same experience, including the same free entertainment, soft drinks, snacks and meals offered today.” That’s better than them talking about award winning entertainment, friendly service, and seasonal cuisine. So for that I give them credit…

(Tip of the hat to Traveling For Miles and View from the Wing)

  1. “As you can see, there are a few differences between shorthaul and transatlantic basic economy:
    On transatlantic flights you get a personal item and a carry-on, while on shorthaul you only get a personal item”

    This is wrong on BA. On BA, short haul hand baggage only fares let you bring a carry-on and a personal item.

  2. I don’t get it why status customers get different treatment at different airlines. As a BA Emerald you’re worse of than a AA or Iberia Ruby…

  3. That’s because BA is run by some Hispanic dude who has seriously outstayed his welcome. Maybe get an actual British person to run the British flagship airline.

  4. As an English learner, I have to say that -thanks to this blog- my new favorite words are “seasonal cuisine”.

  5. Pretty sure this bucket existed already but they weren’t selling it to the public. I had a British Airways flight cancel in November and they offered to reaccomodate on AA. I asked them fair bucket at it was going to be and I refused so they gave me a Y fare. (Otherwise I wouldn’t of hit status if I had the B fare). So the fares were there before.

  6. @william y you mimic a Trumpette. Hispanic generally means central and Latin America

    Alex Cruz is Euskadi aka Basque BA is a global airline with its HDQ in the UK. They are a very profitable business so he’s doing something right

    Ceo of etihad is Swiss. Alan Joyce of Qantas is Irish

    Craig Kreeger is the CEO of Virgin Atlantic.. he’s American Although they are 80% owned by Delta Air France and KLM

  7. So according to that last table, it looks like OW Ruby members still get free seat selection. Can they select MCE seats for the normal 50% cost? If so, the only downsides to a basic economy fare for an elite is the reduced EQMs, and the inability to use miles to upgrade.

  8. Funny how AA can find the time and resources to create Economy minus yet they still can’t create an upgrade program for their Premium Economy passengers. They put it on their web site but 9 months after selling PE, they “don’t have the capability to offer mileage upgrades for PE tickets on AA or Iberia.” #goingforgreat. Not.

  9. “Same great Main Cabin Seat”? Great? Maybe they should try out the seats before making such ludicrous claims. Reading that made me spit out my coffee, dammit.

  10. @Icarus

    Wrong. Read the latest financial reports. BA’s costs per passenger km are up! They are losing more money per passenger now than before.

    Net Promoter Score is so abysmal that the aforementioned Alex Cruz will very surely lose his performance bonus. He oversaw the near ruin of Vueling whilst he was their CEO; no bonus that year either. He is as popular as a bucket of cold puke and managerial staff are leaving in droves.

  11. The seat selection is really no big deal since most airlines nowadays if flying economy won’t let you choose your seat unless you pay a fee. That’s why I typically arrive super early for check-in so I can at least ask for an aisle seat. Stupid SAS wouldn’t even give me that when I flew with them last year though. When the flight was delayed I finally managed to wrangle an aisle seat out of them. Originally I was told “Sorry the flight is full” Well turns out not only did I get an aisle seat, but the window seat next to me was also empty. So much for the flight being full. Would never fly SAS again. Terrible airline.

  12. actually you are wrong about on domestic you can only assign a seat at checkin, you can actually assign a seat at purchase as well as long as you are willing to pay a fee, you are confused with UA‘s basic economy.

  13. @Lucky – I was wondering, what airline do you think has the better first class for crossing the atlantic, American or British Airways?

  14. @ W

    That really is the same question as asking whether you prefer being sick with the Plague or Cholera….

  15. Not surprising, and the slight differences on the transatlantic basi economy fares (eg allowed one carryon and one personal item) seem to bring it in line with BA’s “hand baggage only” fares that they already offer on short haul.

    @Travel-Quinten, you are better off as a BA emerald – at least then you get access to AA Admirals Club and Flagship lounges when flying domestically in the the US – something AA doesn’t give its own elites!

  16. To be perfectly blunt, flying economy on an American carrier is a no go. The only economy seat I think I could handle is an aisle in JAL or ANA. Maybe a few years ago I could do Cathay, but it’d be difficult. When it comes to looking at economy seats, I think you really have to take into account the nationality of the carrier. Chinese and American Airlines are bottom of the barrel in that regard. Followed closely by ME3.

  17. No one in their right mind would fly “economy” on an american aircraft. they are horrible. It’s backwards. Everything was about getting money–there was no real narrative. Walking corpses-Steinbeck.

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