The Guide to American Airlines Basic Economy

AA basic economy has some restrictions, but provides a solid budget-friendly experience compared to other airlines.
Sally French
Ariana Arghandewal
By Ariana Arghandewal and  Sally French 
Edited by Mary M. Flory
girl looking out window with american airlines basic economy ticket

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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:

  • Basic economy fares do not earn Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) and Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) 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 March 1, AAdvantage members earn just 2 miles per dollar spent on basic economy fares.

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.

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.

Elite members who purchase a basic economy fare are able to access elite benefits including:

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.

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:

American's basic economy compared to other airlines

In NerdWallet's annual analysis of best airlines, American Airlines won for the best basic economy tickets for travelers.

We compared all of the full-service U.S.-based airlines' basic economy tickets and rated them on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest.

American wins for a few reasons: It allows seat selection (for a fee), elite upgrades and standby travel. Basic economy fares provide a significant cost savings over standard economy.

Plus, you still get that comfortable main cabin seat, free snacks, soft drinks and in-flight entertainment that generally make American Airlines one of the better onboard experiences out there anyway.

AA basic economy, recapped

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.

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