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No-frills basic economy fares are the latest trend of the airline industry. Delta Air Lines was the first US legacy carrier to launch a basic economy fare, and since, United has developed a new bare-bones economy class of its own. As the only legacy carrier yet to announce its own version of basic economy, we knew that American would join the ranks of legacy carriers offering a bare-bones ticket — it was only a matter of time.

This morning, American offered up the details of its own flavor of basic economy. Here’s a rundown of the new offering:

  • Basic economy travelers will board the plane last — elite members and co-branded cardholders will board with the same groups they would when traveling on a regular economy fare.
  • You won’t be allowed to reserve a seat in advance. However, you can pay for a seat assignment starting 48 hours from the scheduled departure time. If you don’t choose to select a seat, one will be assigned to you at check-in. The system will check for families traveling with children 13 and under and will attempt to seat these individuals together.
  • No large carry-on bags will be allowed for basic economy travelers. You will, however, be allowed to take on a small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, such as a purse or backpack. Any bag that needs to be checked at the gate will be charged the checked baggage fee plus an additional $25 service fee. Elite members and AA co-branded credit card holders are exempt from this and will also have access to their current checked bag allowance.
  • You will not be allowed to make any changes — even for a fee. What you’ve got is what you’re stuck with.
  • There will be no upgrades or same-day flight changes/standby allowed.
  • These basic economy fares will earn 100% elite qualifying dollars (EQDs), but only 50% elite qualifying miles (EQMs) and elite qualifying segments (EQSs).

Here’s a breakdown from American, comparing basic economy with regular coach fares:

As you can see, there’s a lot to digest here. However, given what we know about both United and Delta’s basic economy offerings, none of these perks — or lack thereof — are too shocking. What we knew is that basic economy fares are a way for legacy carriers to compete with the likes of low-cost carriers, such as Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant.

Here’s a letter from AA’s president detailing the latest airline change:

What Does This Mean for AA Travelers and How Does It Stack up to the Other Legacy Carriers?

Basic economy fares will go on sale in 10 select markets beginning next month. Once they’re available to book, it’ll be important to keep an eye out for which ticket you’re buying. These new changes also increase the value of both elite status with American and its co-branded credit cards, such as the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard and the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard. With both cards, you’re entitled to both early boarding and a first checked bag for free — making you exempt from the baggage rules of the basic economy fare.

Last year, we compared basic economy fares on the legacy carriers (as well as on the low-cost carriers) — you can find the full rundown here. Of the three legacy carriers, Delta’s basic economy fare allows you to choose your own seat at check-in (AA and United auto-assign you a seat at check-in), and you’ll get one carry-on and one personal item (AA and United only allow you a personal item).

While AA’s basic economy fare seems to align more with United’s in terms of the bare-bones nature of its offerings, fortunately you’ll still be eligible to earn both award miles and elite-qualifying credits. Although you’ll only earn 50% EQMs and EQSs, it’s better than walking away without any credit, like you would when booking a basic economy ticket with United.

Bottom Line

Stay tuned to TPG for more details about the AA basic economy fares and what it could mean for you. Overall, though, this announcement doesn’t seem as bad as many were expecting. Yes, it’s far from ideal — no changes, no upgrades, last-group boarding and half EQM and EQS earning — but the fact that you can earn elite-qualifying credits of some kind and some travelers will be exempt from some of the restrictions brings some relief.

What do you think about American’s basic economy offering?

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