American Airlines Launching Basic Economy on Transatlantic Flights This Spring

Mar 1, 2018

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Just more than one year ago, American Airlines launched basic economy fares on ten domestic routes. That spread to all domestic AA routes last September. Now, the basic economy scourge is expanding to transatlantic flights.

American Airlines announced Thursday that basic economy fares will start being sold on transatlantic routes in April of this year. This move will come at the same time that AA’s partners British Airways, Iberia and Finnair will also start selling basic economy fares.

Here’s a quick overview of the new transatlantic basic economy fares:

  • Boarding: Group 8 boarding — exceptions for elites and co-branded cardholders
  • Carry-on bags: one carry-on bag and one personal bag (same as before), including on domestic connections
  • Checked Baggage: No checked baggage allowance — except for elites. Fees for the first checked bag haven’t been unveiled yet.
  • Seat assignments: Assigned at check-in, unless purchased in advance
  • Upgrades: No upgrades (systemwide, load-based factor upgrades, etc.)

Some good news and some bad news in here. The loss of a free checked bag stings, but at least Oneworld is allowing basic economy passengers to still bring a full-size carry-on bag as well as a personal item. So, light packers will be able to avoid baggage fees — even on domestic connections, as specifically noted by American Airlines:

Customers flying on a domestic Basic Economy leg connecting to a trans-Atlantic Basic Economy ticket will travel under the rules of the international ticket, including the carry-on bag allowance.

The bad news for general flyers is the loss of a seat assignment and a checked bag. American Airlines elites retain their priority boarding but lose the chance to use any upgrades and earn fewer elite-qualifying miles.

With the ever-growing expansion of low-cost carriers and ultra-low cost carriers flying across the Atlantic, it was inevitable that legacy airlines would respond with basic economy restrictions. Delta already had a mild version of basic economy, which recently got worse with the elimination of a checked bag. Aer Lingus added its “Saver” fares. And now we are seeing Oneworld’s foray into the transatlantic basic economy market.

Overall, the restrictions could be worse. However, as we know from AA’s presentations to its investors, basic economy means a hidden price increase — where passengers have to pay more for the same services as before. After all, AA alone expects basic economy to generate $1 billion of incremental revenue per year.

So, when you see those same American Airlines $400 round-trip fares to Europe starting in April, know that they could be coming with fewer benefits than they do now. You could have to pay for the checked bag and seating assignment, which currently come with those cheap tickets.

Update 1:01pm: We reached out to an American Airlines spokesperson about elite checked baggage allowances. The airline is “not confirming those additional details today,” pointing to the April launch time period as when more details can be shared.

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