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 
Updated
Edited by Mary M. Flory
girl looking out window with american airlines basic economy ticket

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

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, regardless of distance or region.

  • 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.

Rack up miles or enjoy lounge privileges with our favorite American Airlines cards
Check out our nerdy picks for the best American Airlines credit cards and find the right card for you.

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:

Basic economy across U.S. airlines

In NerdWallet's annual analysis of the best airlines, we compared the basic economy experience across the major U.S. airlines currently offering a basic economy fare.

We looked at restrictions and allowances, including baggage, miles earning and trip modification policies. Here's how they stacked up:

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.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

Cards for American Airlines from our Partners
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
Citibank Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® Credit Card

on Citibank's application

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
4.6
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x

Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases.

Miles

Intro offer

70,000

Earn 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $7,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.

Miles
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

75,000

Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's over $900 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
See more cards
Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.