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At the end of August, airlines made national news by eliminating change fees. However, there were a couple of changes that got buried in the news. As part of its announcement about eliminating change fees, American Airlines announced that it would eliminate restrictions from basic economy fares.
These changes included allowing elite members to use benefits like upgrades, elite seat benefits, and same-day flight changes on basic economy tickets. In addition, non-elite members would get to avoid negative aspects of basic economy by purchasing add-ons.
However, the timing of these changes wasn't clear. The email that went out to AAdvantage elites at the time only shared that these changes would go into effect “this fall”:
Without fanfare, American Airlines updated its website overnight to implement all of the previously announced changes. So, let's dive into what exactly has changed.
American Airlines Elite Benefits on Basic Economy Fares
Effective October 1, 2020, AAdvantage elites get the following benefits on all fares — including basic economy fares:
- Main Cabin Extra or Preferred seats at no cost at booking or check-in — depending on your status
- Upgrade privileges
- Same-day flight changes
This change makes AA's basic economy fares quite enticing. In addition to paying the lowest price, elite members can avoid almost all of the negatives of basic economy. Even before this change, elite members get to board in their priority boarding group and retain their checked bag privileges. But starting today, AA elites get almost all of their elite benefits on basic economy fares.
Other American Airlines Basic Economy Improvements
American Airlines basic economy is also getting better for non-elites too. Effective October 1, 2020, basic economy passengers have the ability to purchase the following add-ons:
- Priority boarding
- Preferred/Main Cabin Extra seats
- Same-day confirmed flight changes
Now that these changes are in effect, travelers can pay to avoid the aspects of basic economy that they dislike the most. For example, do you want to make sure you can carry-on your bag? Just buy priority boarding to ensure there's enough overhead bin space.
Negative Basic Economy Changes Starting January 1
However, it's not all good news. There are two negative changes coming to basic economy fares on January 1, 2021.
All American Airlines flights ticketed before December 31, 2020 can be changed for no change fee — including basic economy fares. However, starting January 1, 2021, basic economy fares will go back to being non-changeable. Although American Airlines eliminated change fees as of August 31, this policy change doesn't apply to basic economy fares. That means once the temporary coronavirus pandemic policies expire, basic economy tickets will return to “use them or lose them” status.
In addition, AAdvantage travelers won't earn any elite status earnings on basic economy fares starting January 1, 2021. Currently, AAdvantage members earn:
- 0.5X Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM)
- 0.5X Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS)
- Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) based on the base airfare and carrier-imposed surcharges
Depending on how you travel, this can be good news or bad news. As an AAdvantage elite, I'm thrilled to get elite benefits like upgrades and seat selection on basic economy fares. But, it's a bummer to lose elite earnings on basic economy fares.
Personally, I'll probably avoid basic economy fares when flying on long-haul or expensive flights in order to earn elite-qualifying activity. However, I'll book basic economy fares on short, cheap flights or when there's a large price difference to buy up to Main Cabin. For example, on a $39 fare from Los Angeles (LAX) to Las Vegas (LAS), I'll happily trade a few Elite Qualifying Miles and Elite Qualifying Dollars to get a cheaper fare that includes all of my elite perks.
Giving non-elites the option to buy out of the worst aspects of basic economy is another great change for travelers. However, it will be interesting to see how competitive these add-on fees will be. Depending on the rates, it may be cheaper to buy Main Cabin fares rather than upgrading a la carte.
What do you think about these changes?
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