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After United announced their basic economy fares late in 2016, we all knew American would follow suit. The legacy carriers are all scrambling to adapt to a market in which budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant are making serious inroads.

On Wednesday the airline released details on these fares, and they look remarkably similar to those being rolled out by United. American is the last of the U.S. big 3 to roll out this new fare class. Actually, now they are not, since they are moving rather quickly to roll these fares out ahead of United. AA isn’t giving consumers much time to react to the changes; the American Airlines basic economy fare takes off on February 10, 2017.

The American Airlines basic economy fare

Here’s what American’s version of “basic economy” looks like:

  • No seat assignment. Seats are assigned at check-in.
  • Personal item only (under seat in front of you). No normal carry-on or checked baggage allowance.
  • For bags checked at gate, standard checked bag fee applies, plus $25 (so $50 total for 1st checked bag)
  • Last boarding group
  • No upgrade eligibility
  • No same-day standby or flight changes
  • Reduced qualification toward elite status
  • Still earn AAdvantage miles

This is clearly a no-frills fare. AAdvantage elite members and people who have one of American’s co-branded credit cards can still get some of their baggage and boarding benefits, so they wouldn’t have to worry as much. However, it’s a catch 22 for elite members since they won’t be earning as many miles toward re-qualification.

American Airlines basic economy fare

BUT, the American Airlines basic economy fare outdoes United’s in 2 ways:

  • You can still earn (at least some) elite qualifying miles/segments/dollars
  • You can pay for a seat assignment within 48 hours of the flight

We’ll see if United will take the hint and make some changes to their basic economy fare.

American Airlines has made it clear that flight attendants won’t be tasked with policing overhead bin space. So if someone brings a rather large “personal item” and stuffs it in the overhead bin, there isn’t much anyone will do. It will be the responsibility of gate agents to ensure that baggage polices are adhered to.

What does this mean for fliers?

I’m split on these changes. I previously detailed how I thought there could be an upside to United’s basic economy fares, and I think it will be the same with American. Put simply, it will be price. They have to compete. Many people are obviously willing to go bare-bones if it means paying less, and the American Airlines basic economy fare is their response.

There are those afraid that American will simply change their current lowest fare class to “basic economy”, effectively making normal main cabin fares more expensive. Consumers would simply get less for the same price. I do understand this worry, but I still don’t see how American can do this without alienating a lot of their frequent fliers.

What do you think of the American Airlines basic economy fare?

Header image courtesy of Simon Sees under CC 2.0 license

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