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American improves basic economy with paid advanced seat selection option

March 29, 2020
3 min read
American improves basic economy with paid advanced seat selection option
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Perhaps the most unwelcome change in the airline industry in the last decade was the introduction of basic economy fares. These bare-bones tickets stripped out many of the typical inclusions you’d find in a regular coach fare: things like seat selection and the ability to earn full miles. (Delta’s the sole outlier of the Big 3 and awards full mileage on basic economy tickets.)

Well, as noted by JT Genter, American Airlines is making an improvement to one of its basic economy restrictions.

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American Main Cabin Extra (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Previously, these tickets only allowed you to pay for a seat assignment within a week of your flight. If you didn't end up selecting a seat, one would be assigned to you when check-in opened.

Now, you're able to purchase a seat anytime after booking. The cost of the seats vary by location and route.

Related: Comparing basic economy fares across U.S. airlines

American charges for Main Cabin Extra and Preferred seats when purchasing a regular coach ticket too. In my searches, the difference in price for those above-average seats on a regular and basic economy ticket was minimal. As such, there's even less reason to avoid basic economy nowadays.

Left: seat pricing on regular economy ticket; Right: seat pricing on basic economy ticket

With this change, the remaining restrictions on American's basic economy tickets are as follows:

  • No changes or cancellations allowed (though that's currently waived in light of the coronavirus)
  • No upgrades
  • 50% earn on miles and elite-qualifying miles and segments
  • Board last (although Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® cardholders get priority/preferred boarding and free checked bags) The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum 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.

Basic economy was originally designed as a pricing strategy to better compete with the ultra low-cost carriers. It then quickly expanded to routes not flown by other low-cost competitors, and so was disguised as a fare increase across the board. Modifying basic economy fares and restrictions was one of the seven things I argued that U.S. airlines should implement as part of getting a massive bailout package from the government.

Related: Best credit cards for defeating basic economy

As fewer restrictions are placed on basic economy tickets, airfare will still be determined by supply and demand. But there's now even less of a reason to avoid the basic economy fare, especially since change and cancellation fees are waived in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy)
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.