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How to Make the Most of American’s Basic Economy

Aug. 30, 2019
Loyalty Programs, Travel, Travel Credit Cards, Vacations & Trip Planning
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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 type can help you save even more. 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:

  • Not eligible for upgrades.
  • Reduced earnings of Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) and Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs).
  • No choice of seats; will be assigned at check-in unless you pay a fee.
  • Placement in a low-priority boarding group (Group 8 or 9).
  • No ticket can 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.)

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. For starters, you’ll get a better boarding group and free checked bags:

  • AAdvantage Gold: 1 free checked bag, Group 4 boarding.
  • AAdvantage Platinum: 2 free checked bags, Group 3 boarding.
  • AAdvantage Platinum Pro: 2 free checked bags, Group 3 boarding.
  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum: 3 free checked bags, Group 2 boarding.

» Learn more: American Airlines AAdvantage program: The complete guide

Oneworld elite members also qualify for free checked bags and priority boarding while flying basic economy on American Airlines.

  • Oneworld Ruby: 1 free checked bag, Group 4 boarding.
  • Oneworld Sapphire: 2 free checked bags, Group 3 boarding.
  • Oneworld Emerald: 3 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:

» Learn more: Which American Airlines credit card should you choose?

Another side benefit of having some co-branded credit cards is that you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice earning elite status by booking these lower fares. Basic economy fares only earn half the EQMs of a regular economy ticket, but you might make up for this by earning extra EQM’s through the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, for example. This card awards 10,000 EQM’s after you spend $40,000 in a calendar year.

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.

To help, we built the calculator below, which can help you determine the “true cost” of that 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 only applies to domestic flights; international baggage fees are more complex.

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 2019, including those best for:
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best travel credit card for you
4 reasons to start collecting American Airlines AAdvantage miles
Your guide to the American Airlines award chart

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