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As the cheapest tickets offered by American Airlines, basic economy fares can be a tremendous bargain. If you’re someone who travels light and doesn’t anticipate needing to change your travel plans, you can get great value out of basic economy.
But being aware of how to get around the limitations of this fare can help you save even more money. Here is everything you need to know to make the best of American Airlines' basic economy.
What is American Airlines' basic economy?
Basic economy is the cheapest fare class offered by American Airlines. Booking a basic economy fare entitles you to the same main cabin seat as other economy class passengers. There are just a few differences in the travel experience:
Reduced earnings of Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) and Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) through Dec. 31, 2020. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, and beyond, basic economy fares will no longer earn EQM, EQD or EQS toward future status.
No choice of seats; your seat will be assigned at check-in unless you pay a fee.
Placement in a low-priority boarding group (Group 8 or 9).
No ticket changes or cancellations after 24 hours of booking (except on flights to Europe, where a fee applies).
No free checked bags on flights within the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe. (Exceptions to this rule: Flights to and from Alaska, Cuba, El Salvador, Haiti, Panama, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.)
As of Oct. 1, 2020, all customers — including those with basic economy fares —can fly standby on the same day for free.
Are the savings worth it? To help, we built the calculator below, which can help you determine the "true cost" of a basic economy ticket. Just input the cost of the ticket you’re considering along with a few other details, and you’ll see whether it’s actually a better deal.
Note that this calculator applies to domestic flights only; international baggage fees are more complex.
» Learn more: American drops fees and adds benefits to basic economy
Despite the restrictions, booking basic economy on American Airlines doesn’t have to be a bad experience. In fact, you can get around many of its inconveniences with a few tips and tricks.
Flying basic economy with elite status
Being an AAdvantage elite member makes traveling so much better, especially if you’re flying on a basic economy fare. Beginning in fall 2020, Elite members who purchase a basic economy fare will now be able to access elite benefits including:
Elite seat privileges (including access to Main Cabin Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats).
Same-day confirmed flight change benefit.
You’ll also get a better boarding group and free checked bags:
AAdvantage Gold: One free checked bag, Group 4 boarding.
AAdvantage Platinum: Two free checked bags, Group 3 boarding.
AAdvantage Platinum Pro: Two free checked bags, Group 3 boarding.
AAdvantage Executive Platinum: Three free checked bags, Group 2 boarding.
» Learn more: Guide to American Airlines elite status
Oneworld elite members also qualify for free checked bags and priority boarding while flying basic economy on American Airlines.
Oneworld Ruby: One free checked bag, Group 4 boarding.
Oneworld Sapphire: Two free checked bags, Group 3 boarding.
Oneworld Emerald: Three free checked bags, Group 2 boarding.
Using credit cards to fly basic economy
If you’re flying basic economy on American Airlines, you can circumvent many of the fare’s inconveniences with a co-branded credit card. For example, you can get upgraded to Group 4 or 5 boarding, meaning you can get to your seat faster and snag a convenient overhead spot for your bag.
You can get free checked bags from the AAdvantage co-branded credit cards as well. Here’s how the benefits look for various cards if you just add your AAdvantage number to your reservation:
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®: One free checked bag for the primary cardholder and up to four companions traveling on the same domestic itinerary.
AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard®: One free checked bag for the primary cardholder and up to eight companions on the same domestic itinerary.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: One free checked bag for the primary cardholder and up to four companions traveling on the same domestic itinerary.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: One free checked bag for the primary cardholder and up to eight companions on the same domestic itinerary.
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: One free checked bag for the primary cardholder and up to four companions traveling on the same domestic itinerary.
AAdvantage® Aviator® World Elite Business Mastercard®: One free checked bag for the primary cardholder and up to four companions traveling on the same domestic itinerary.
» Learn more: Which American Airlines credit card should you choose?
The bottom line
Paying for checked bags isn’t ideal, but if the basic economy fare is cheap enough, it might make sense to book it and pay for a checked bag rather than booking a fare with free baggage allowance. But we know this can be hard to figure out, especially if you’re comparing fares among multiple airlines.
The information related to CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
on Chase's website
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X on dining and 2X on all other travel purchases, plus more
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
on Chase's website
Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card
on Wells Fargo's website
- Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $1,500 in purchases in the first 3 months - that's a $300 cash redemption value
- Earn unlimited 3X points on the things that really add up - like restaurants, travel, gas stations, transit, popular streaming services, and phone plans. Plus, earn 1X points on other purchases
- $0 annual fee
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
on Bank of America's website
- Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire
- 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
- Use your card to book your trip how and where you want - you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
on Bank of America's website