Skip to content

American Airlines restricts basic economy flexibility in move to new normal

March 27, 2021
3 min read
American Airlines restricts basic economy flexibility in move to new normal
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.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

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 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.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

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

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • 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

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases