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Everything you need to know about flying basic economy on American Airlines

July 28, 2022
10 min read
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.


Basic economy fares are often the least expensive fares you’ll find. If you’ve booked a basic economy fare on American Airlines, you may have some questions. Specifically, you may wonder what restrictions you face and whether there are ways to avoid these restrictions. This guide aims to answer all of your questions.

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What's basic economy?

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

American Airlines’ basic economy is the carrier’s lowest-priced main cabin fare. It comes with some restrictions on baggage, seating, boarding order and your eligibility to change. This guide will answer common questions about these restrictions.

American Airlines waives some basic economy restrictions for elite members and holders of eligible AAdvantage Aviator or Citi / AAdvantage credit cards. I’ll discuss these exceptions in sections dedicated to elite members and cardholders near the end of this guide.

Related: Comparing basic economy fares across US airlines

Can I check a bag?

Yes, but it’s going to cost you:

  • Within the U.S. and Canada: $30 for the first bag, $40 for the second bag, $150 for the third bag and $200 for each additional bag.
  • To/from Mexico: $30 for the first bag, $40 for the second bag, $200 for the third bag and $200 for each additional bag.
  • To/from the Caribbean: $30 for the first bag (waived for travel to/from Haiti and departing Cuba), $40 for the second bag (waived for travel departing Cuba; $70 for travel to/from Haiti), $200 for the third bag and $200 for each additional bag.
  • To/from Central America: $30 for the first bag, $40 for the second bag ($65 for seasonal travel to/from Honduras), $150 for the third bag and $200 for each additional bag.
  • To/from South America: $45 for the first bag ($30 for travel to/from Colombia, Ecuador and Guyana), $65 for the second bag ($40 for travel to/from Ecuador and Guyana; $55 for travel to/from Colombia), $200 for the third bag and $200 for each additional bag.
  • Transatlantic: $75 for the first bag, $100 for the second bag and $200 for each additional bag.

The costs for checked baggage are the same for basic economy and Main Cabin fares on most routes. Notable exceptions that waive the first checked bag fee for Main Cabin fares include transatlantic flights, flights to/from South America (excluding Guyana) and flights to/from Panama. See the chart for checked baggage fees on American’s website for more details.

Related: How to avoid checked baggage fees on major domestic airlines

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Can I bring a carry-on?

Yes, your ticket allows one personal item and one carry-on item. Your personal item must be no larger than 18 by 14 by 8 inches and should fit under the seat in front of you. Meanwhile, your carry-on bag must fit in the overhead bin and cannot be larger than 22 by 14 by 9 inches.

Related: Keep calm and carry on: Our 13 favorite travel carry-ons

Can I select a seat?

Yes, but it will cost you. You can choose a specific seat at any time during or after booking for a fee.

Main Cabin Extra seats provide a bit more legroom. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

If you don’t choose to pay to select a seat, American Airlines will automatically assign you a seat for free at check-in. American Airlines has the following policy for families traveling in basic economy:

If you’re a family traveling with children under 15, and do not already have seats assigned, our system will search for seats together automatically before the day of departure. We’ll try our best to keep you together, but if seats are limited, we’ll assign seats so children under 15 are next to at least 1 adult.

Basic economy seats aren’t different from other standard seats in coach. Instead, they’re the seats that aren’t selected by other passengers before you check in. Contributor Brian Biros recommends not picking a seat in hopes of scoring a free upgrade. After all, you might luck into a preferred seat or a Main Cabin Extra seat. But I recommend paying to select seats if you really want a window or aisle seat, need extra legroom or want your group to sit together.

Related: A beginners guide to American Airlines economy seats

When can I board?

Basic economy passengers generally board in the last boarding group, which is Group 9 for flights within the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and Group 8 for flights to/from Europe, South America and Africa. You may be required to gate-check your carry-on bag, but doing so will be free. However, if you are an AAdvantage member, you’ll board in Group 6.

Related: Why I always board last, no matter where I’m sitting on the plane

Can I change my flight?

Economy seats on an American Airlines Boeing 787-8. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Although American Airlines has removed most change fees, the carrier excluded basic economy. American Airlines doesn’t allow any changes to basic economy fares within the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. And although American Airlines allows travelers to make changes after paying a fee when traveling to/from Europe, South America and Africa, the American Airlines fee chart lists a charge of up to $750 for voluntary changes to an international ticket before the day of travel. So, the change fee almost certainly won’t be worth it.

American Airlines’ global coronavirus waiver no longer applies to basic economy airfare. Note, however, that if you’re an AAdvantage Member, you can apply the value of any unused ticket booked between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, to any trip before Dec. 31, 2022 (also note that you have to book the ticket before Sept. 30, 2022).

Related: How to avoid airline change and cancellation fees

Can I cancel my flight?

No, except if 1) you cancel the ticket within 24 hours of purchase, 2) American changes your flight schedule by 61 minutes or more, 3) you or your traveling companion dies, or 4) because of military orders. In these cases, American Airlines may refund the purchase price to your original form of payment if you can provide valid documentation.

However, thanks to American Airlines’ global coronavirus waiver, you can cancel basic economy tickets booked between March 1, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021, for any reason.

Related: Leniency in basic economy: TPG readers share success stories and tips

Do I still earn miles?

Yes! For travel after Jan. 1, 2022, basic economy fares earn award miles and Loyalty Points.

Related: Where to credit your basic economy flights for maximum returns

Does having a cobranded credit card help?

Having an American Airlines credit card can decrease the negatives of flying on a basic economy fare. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Yes, having one of the eligible cobranded American Airlines credit cards can improve your basic economy experience. As a holder of one of these cards, you’ll get the following benefits even when flying on a basic economy fare:

  • First checked bag for free for you and up to a set number of companions on the same reservation on domestic American Airlines-operated itineraries (the eligible number of companions varies by card).
  • Group 5 boarding, except for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, which provides Group 4 boarding.

Note that you only need to have an eligible card — you don’t have to purchase your ticket with the eligible card. So you can get the boarding and baggage benefits of a cobranded American Airlines credit card even when you pay for your ticket with a card that provides travel protections such as trip delay protection and baggage delay protection.

If you’re looking for a card that provides Group 4 or 5 boarding and your first checked bag free on domestic itineraries, consider getting one of the following cards:

The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select card, AAdvantage Aviator Red card and AAdvantage Aviator Business card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: AA, Delta and United lounges have limited access to customers flying with them: Here’s what to do

Does having elite status help?

Yes, having AAdvantage or Oneworld elite status helps. Specifically, elite members get the following benefits even when flying on a basic economy fare:

In short, if you have AAdvantage elite status, it might make sense to book basic economy if the fare is significantly lower.

Related: Credit cards that can help you earn airline elite status

Bottom line

American Airlines’ basic economy fares come with restrictions. But, travelers with elite status or an eligible American Airlines credit card can escape many of the inconveniences of basic economy. Specifically, these passengers receive their customary baggage allowance and boarding zone provided by their elite status or eligible credit card.

In particular, having a credit card such as the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard provides the first checked bag free on domestic flights and Group 5 boarding. So, you could get enough value to justify the card’s annual fee after saving checked baggage fees on just a couple of domestic flights.

Related: Why now is the perfect time to reconsider basic economy fares

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best for American Airlines lounge access
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 4X miles
4XFor a limited time, earn a total of 4 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases through December 31, 2022. After that, earn 2 miles per $1 on eligible American Airlines purchases.
1X1 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 miles
Earn 80,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$450

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

 includes a complimentary membership to the American Airlines Admirals Club lounge. Users can also add up to 10 authorized users (for no additional cost), and they get their own access — including two traveling companions. The primary cardmember also enjoys priority check in, screening and boarding for themselves and up to eight travel companions. Other perks include a free checked bag for domestic travel, 25% off eligible inflight purchases and $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

Pros

  • Offers Admirals Club lounge access.
  • Help earning up to 10,000 EQMs that go toward elite status.
  • Priority check-in, airport screening, boarding and a free checked bag for you and up to 8 travel companions.
  • 25% discount on inflight food and beverages.
  • Receive a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck Fee Statement Credit.

Cons

  • No travel protection benefits.
  • Miles redemption limited to American Airlines and its Oneworld partners.
  • 25% inflight credit doesn't include Wi-Fi.
  • Earn 80,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for up to two guests or immediate family members traveling with you
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
  • For a limited time, earn a total of 4 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases through December 31, 2022. After that, earn 2 miles per $1 on eligible American Airlines purchases.
  • Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation
Best for American Airlines lounge access
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XFor a limited time, earn a total of 4 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases through December 31, 2022. After that, earn 2 miles per $1 on eligible American Airlines purchases.
1X1 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    80,000 miles
  • Annual Fee

    $450
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

 includes a complimentary membership to the American Airlines Admirals Club lounge. Users can also add up to 10 authorized users (for no additional cost), and they get their own access — including two traveling companions. The primary cardmember also enjoys priority check in, screening and boarding for themselves and up to eight travel companions. Other perks include a free checked bag for domestic travel, 25% off eligible inflight purchases and $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

Pros

  • Offers Admirals Club lounge access.
  • Help earning up to 10,000 EQMs that go toward elite status.
  • Priority check-in, airport screening, boarding and a free checked bag for you and up to 8 travel companions.
  • 25% discount on inflight food and beverages.
  • Receive a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck Fee Statement Credit.

Cons

  • No travel protection benefits.
  • Miles redemption limited to American Airlines and its Oneworld partners.
  • 25% inflight credit doesn't include Wi-Fi.
  • Earn 80,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for up to two guests or immediate family members traveling with you
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
  • For a limited time, earn a total of 4 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases through December 31, 2022. After that, earn 2 miles per $1 on eligible American Airlines purchases.
  • Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation