American Selling Basic Economy Fares On Transatlantic Flights

Filed Under: American

As it turns out these fares have actually been around for over a month, but I guess I just didn’t pick up on them at the time. In early March American announced that they’d be extending basic economy fares to transatlantic markets as of April.

While American introduced basic economy on domestic flights in early 2017, up until recently they haven’t been available in any longhaul markets.

It’s not surprising that it took them a while to add these on longhaul flights, given the joint ventures they have in many markets. So when they add basic economy on transatlantic flights they’re not just doing so on their own flights, but also on British Airways, Finnair, and Iberia, which are their joint venture partners.

I only picked up on American now having expanded basic economy based on a Tweet by @TheFlightDeal. For the most part the premium for regular economy over basic economy is just under $100 roundtrip. In many cases I’d say it’s worth paying extra to avoid it.

Basic economy works differently on domestic and international flights, though. On international flights, basic economy comes with the following restrictions:

  • You have to pay to check bags
  • You have to pay to assign seats, or they’ll assign a seat at no charge at check-in
  • You’re not eligible for upgrades
  • You board in the last group

As you can see, however, you’ll still be able to bring a carry-on, and you’ll still earn miles as usual.

The cost to check a bag on a basic economy fare on a transatlantic flight is $60 in each direction (it’s the same as the normal fee for a second checked bag), so if you do intend to check a bag then you’re better off avoiding these fares. Otherwise it depends whether you value the cheapest possible price, or if you’re willing to pay a bit extra to reserve a specific seat and not board last.

I’ve been a big critic of basic economy, though believe it or not I take slightly less issue with it on longhaul flights than I do on short-haul flights. Why? Because it’s offensive to me when you have a $600 roundtrip domestic ticket and that’s for basic economy. Domestic airfare pricing shows that there really isn’t enough competition nowadays, at least in many markets.

International flights are a different story, as international airfare is as cheap as it has ever been. $500 roundtrip fares to Asia and Europe have become the new norm, thanks to a combination of Chinese carriers, Gulf carriers, and ultra low cost carriers. I actually fault airlines a little bit less for doing this type of price segmentation on longhaul flights, given that economy fares have become almost unsustainably low.

Delta and their joint venture partners also have basic economy fares on transatlantic flights, leaving United and their joint venture partners as the only group that doesn’t yet have these.

  1. SAS offers hand luggage only fares on transatlantic flights. They’ve had it within Europe for awhile but expanded to transatlantic a few months back if I recall correctly. Supposedly the price differential reflects that (Go Light/ economy light) from their regular Go (economy) product. Not sure how the points or booking class work out though.

  2. Why am I better off avoiding these fares? $566+60<$661. Only major downside is no seat selection.

  3. @Z, the fares quoted in the article are round trip. If the cost to check a bag is $60 one way, then it is better to pay for basic economy, since $566+$60+$60 > $661.

  4. @Lucky, you might want to add some info about their cobranded CCs and checked bags. AFAIK, AA is the only one that doesn’t offer free checked bags for international flights. I think it previously only affected CC members on flights to/from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

    An AA CC holder (perhaps even the one with AC access?) would get screwed by purchasing a TATL BE fare, thinking, “oh, at least I’ll get a free checked bag.” Nope, not unless AA changes things… 🙁

  5. Lucky. I flew JFK to LHR last week. AA. Main cabin. The Expedia fare roundtrip was $500 and change. Didn’t pay extra for seats. Boarded in zone 6. The fare was actually $50 + carrier fees/fuel surcharge and security fees. Great value. 777-300. Business class was empty. Going over the upgrade at checkin to lie flat pod was $400. Point is the deals are there without needing to go basic ! Cheers

  6. Cheapest transatlantic fares have to be Aer Lingus. $375 JFK-DUB return. Onward connections to Europe are very competitive too. Combined with pre-clearance in Dublin, wow!

  7. My first thought was, “well, another reason to keep the aadvantage credit card,” and then I read this: “***AAdvantage® credit cardmembers flying to / from Europe will pay a fee for checked baggage”

    That sucks.

    Interestingly, though, if you add a segment to the continent, basic economy disappears as an option, and you still can find <$500 r/t in main cabin (frankly I'd rather go to AMS than LHR). If you have the cc and can make do with carry on, seats are only $24 r/t. The savings wouldn't be insignificant, and for those on a strict budget, this could be helpful.

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