American Airlines Expands Basic Economy to Hawaii and the Caribbean

Sep 5, 2018

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The basic economy plague has spread yet again: American Airlines just expanded basic economy to all Hawaiian routes and some routes to the US Virgin Islands, Mexico and the Caribbean.

American Airlines originally launched its basic economy product on 10 domestic routes in February 2017 and expanded it to other routes in batches before finally taking in nationwide in September 2017. Next, AA took basic economy overseas, starting in late November 2017 with some routes to the Caribbean and Mexico and then for flights to Europe in spring 2018.

More than 18 months after originally starting to sell basic economy, somehow Hawaiian routes and other Caribbean and Mexican routes were still spared. Combined with recent amazing deals to Hawaii, this has made it possible to go on some incredible mileage runs.

Unfortunately, this opportunity came to an abrupt end Wednesday. An American Airlines spokesperson has confirmed to The Points Guy that American Airlines basic economy has now been expanded to:

  • all Hawaii routes: Honolulu (HNL), Maui (OGG), Kona (KOA), Lihue (LIH)
  • Caribbean routes: St. Maarten (SXM); Bonaire (BON) and Saint Vincent and The Grenadines (SVD)
  • Mexican routes: Ixtap/Zihuatanejo (ZIH), Manzanillo (ZLO), Aguascalientes (AGU), León (BJX), Hermosillo (HMO), Morelia (MLM) and Oaxaca (OAX)
  • Central American routes: Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR) and Roatan, Honduras (RTB)
Mexican, Caribbean and Central American routes where American Airlines is now selling basic economy. Image generated via Great Circle Mapper.

The premium to “buy up” from basic economy to standard economy varies from route to route. But, in some cases, it’s a substantial percentage premium than the main cabin fare you could have bought just yesterday. For example, on the $247 round-trip Hawaii deal TPG posted yesterday, the $247 round-trip fare is still available — but now with new restrictions.

You can defeat some of the worst aspects of basic economy by holding an American Airlines co-branded credit card — such as the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MastercardCiti / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard or CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard. Cardholders will be able to check a bag for free on domestic itineraries and board in Group 5 instead of Group 9 — hopefully ensuring that you don’t have to gate-check your bag.

However, buying basic economy always means that you will be assigned seats at check-in, earn less Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) and won’t be able to upgrade using elite certificates or miles. In order to avoid these restrictions, you’ll have to buy up to a main cabin fare. In the case of the $247 round-trip deals to Hawaii, it’ll cost you $70 more round-trip — a 28% price increase on the Main Cabin fare from what could have been purchased just the day before:

Originally sold to passengers as a “lower cost option,” American Airlines bragged to its investors last September how basic economy has allowed it to raise fares. Latest reports from management indicate that the airline is on track to meet its original projections of generating $1 billion in incremental revenue per year from rolling out basic economy.

However, there was some good news: In late July, American Airlines announced it would allow all basic economy passengers carry-on a bag — eliminating one of the worst aspects of basic economy for many travelers. That change went into effect today, Wednesday September 5.

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