American Airlines Expands Basic Economy, Fare Types and Baggage Rules

These changes introduce a hefty amount of confusion for those flying in economy.
Feb 24, 2021

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American Airlines has expanded basic economy fares to new destinations and updated baggage policies. These changes aim to "simplify the shopping experience for travelers and provide consistency across the airline’s network," the airline says. However, there's still plenty to be confused by in regard to American's baggage and change fee policies.

This expansion of basic economy is also bad news for travelers who might need to change their flights and for American Airlines loyalists who want to earn elite status.

Let's dive into the good and bad on the recently announced changes.

Major changes

Expansion of basic economy to new destinations

For the first time, American Airlines is rolling out basic economy fares to markets in Asia, Oceania, India and Israel. Now, passengers on the cheapest American Airlines flights to these regions won't be able to change or cancel (previously, the cheapest flights were technically main cabin fares). The only upside: You'll still get a free checked bag on these routes with American Airlines' new basic economy plus bag fares.

Unfortunately, these basic economy plus bag fares aren't being expanded to other international markets. American Airlines confirmed that basic economy fares to Europe and South America won't include a free checked bag. So you'll still need to pay up to $75 each way for your first checked bag on these routes.

Standardized bag policies in premium economy

Before these changes, the baggage policies on American Airlines' premium economy fares differed depending on the route. Now, American is simplifying baggage policies for all premium economy flights: For flights ticketed on or after Feb. 23, 2021, all premium economy passengers will get two free checked bags.

That's been the checked-bag policy for most premium economy tickets, but before this change, premium economy flights to Hawaii and Alaska included one free checked bag only. Passengers on flights to Hawaii and Alaska ticketed on or before Feb. 22, 2021, will still be charged a $40 fee to check a second bag.

Moving forward, American Airlines passengers can check two checked bags for free when:

  • Ticketed in business class or premium economy class.

  • Flying as a qualifying elite member (AAdvantage Platinum Pro, AAdvantage Platinum and Oneworld Sapphire members).

Qualifying first-class passengers, higher-tier elites and active U.S. military members are eligible to check (at least) a third bag for free.

Nonstandardized policies in economy

American Airlines now offers four different types of economy fares — each with its own baggage and change fee policies:

  • Basic economy fares (not changeable, no free checked bags).

  • Basic economy plus bag fares (changeable for a fee).

  • Main cabin fares (changeable without checked-bag allowance).

  • Main cabin fares (changeable with checked bag allowance).

American Airlines' basic economy fares on domestic and most short-haul international flights can't be changed and don't come with a free checked bag. But you can bring a full-sized carry-on bag onboard.

For long-haul international flights, the bag fee depends on the destination. If you're flying basic economy to Europe and South America, you'll have to pay $75 each way to check a bag. On the other hand, travelers to Asia or Oceania with American Airlines' new basic economy plus bag fares will get a checked bag for free.

Main cabin fares within the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico, Caribbean (with some exceptions), Guyana and Suriname can now be changed with no fee. However, you'll need to pay for checked bags on these fares. Long-haul international main cabin fares are also generally changeable, and these include a free checked bag.

As you can see, the updates still leave a lot of baggage and change fee policy differences depending on where you fly and which fare you book.

The bad news for American Airlines elites

American Airlines' expansion of basic economy fares to all regions is bad news for those who want to earn AAdvantage elite status. Before this change, economy fares to these destinations were main cabin fares. That meant that AAdvantage members could book the cheapest flights to regions like Asia and Australia and earn full elite status credits. And since flights to Asia and Australia are long, travelers could earn a lot of credits on the flights.

With the introduction of basic economy fares to these regions, travelers working toward American Airlines elite status will have to "buy up" to the main cabin to earn elite status credits. That's because American Airlines' basic economy fares no longer earn any Elite Qualifying Miles, Elite Qualifying Dollars or Elite Qualifying Segments as of Jan. 1, 2021.

The bottom line

American Airlines says these baggage fee changes simplify its travel experience and make it "easier for customers to choose their travel experience." However, these changes actually introduce a hefty amount of confusion for those flying in economy.

With American's addition of another variety of economy fare — basic economy plus bag — there are now four different kinds of economy fares to know and understand, each with its own bag and change fee policies. Further, elite status will be harder to earn since basic economy flights will no longer earn status qualifying miles or dollars.

With that said, American Airlines did standardize baggage policies for premium economy fares. Going forward, premium economy travelers will get two free checked bags regardless of where they fly.

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