American Airlines restricts basic economy flexibility in move to new normal

Mar 27, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

It’s been about a year since the major U.S. airlines issued sweeping waivers for added flexibility when booking flights.

Now, that added flexibility is being peeled back, as American Airlines will restore some restrictions for select basic economy tickets. These itineraries will return to being non-changeable and non-refundable for new purchases made on or after April 1, 2021.

Note that the new restrictions only apply to domestic basic economy fares, as well as for those international itineraries departing North or South America. American will allow changes on new basic economy tickets originating outside North or South America for tickets bought between April 1, 2021 and April 30, 2021, for all travel dates, except for those from Asia.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

Pre-pandemic, one of the biggest restrictions with these deep-discount tickets was the fact that there were effectively “use it or lose it.” If you needed to change a basic economy ticket, you’d be forced to purchase a brand-new one, instead of applying the existing value to a new itinerary less a change fee.

Then, the coronavirus came stateside, and major network airlines made all tickets fully flexible, including those in basic economy. You couldn’t get a refund for voluntarily canceled flights, but you could still make changes as needed.

Now, with an accelerated vaccine rollout and over a million daily travelers again passing through TSA checkpoints on average, American seemingly thinks it’s time to reign in on the flexibility.

American’s basic economy passengers can now pay for extra-legroom seats (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Even when basic economy becomes non-changeable again, it won’t carry all of the pre-pandemic restrictions. As of Oct. 1, 2020, American allows bargain travelers to purchase,

  • Upgrades
  • Priority boarding
  • Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seating
  • Same-day confirmed flight changes

AAdvantage elites can also enjoy all their perks too, though American removed the ability to earn elite-qualifying miles, segments and dollars on these tickets effective Jan. 1, 2021.

More about AA tickets: Everything you need to know about flying basic economy on American Airlines

For American, basic economy is about to become what airlines had originally intended it to be: non-changeable and non-refundable.

But it’s unclear if the competition will follow AA’s move.

Both Delta and United currently have global waivers for all new tickets purchased through March 31. In previous months, the carriers have extended this flexibility just a day or two before it expired.

Now, however, the calculus for airline revenue managers is different.

In late 2020, all three major U.S. airlines permanently eliminated change fees for most fares. This policy applies to all domestic tickets, and select international ones, too. It doesn’t apply to basic economy, however.

Related: How airline no-change-fee policies stack up against Southwest

Over the past year, the goal was to get you to buy a ticket — by offering changes for all fares. With more travelers now returning to the skies, American seems to be reinstating its segmentation strategy, and getting those who value flexibility to buy up to higher, standard coach fares.

Going forward, you’ll need to think twice before booking American basic economy. What if you get sick? Or there’s another wave of COVID-19 infections?

Either buy up to regular economy, choose a competitor offering more flexibility or cross your fingers that American restores its global waiver.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 12 months
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.