American improves basic economy with paid advanced seat selection option

Mar 29, 2020

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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.

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:

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 photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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