American Airlines Just Improved Basic Economy Fares for Elites and Non-Elites

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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 Basic Economy updated page

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.

Yes, even upgrades to business class!

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:

  • Upgrades
  • 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

Our Take

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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  • Avatar
    linda teresa laura says:

    Los viajes domésticos ofrecen un asiento un poco más amplio, pero cuestan muchas más millas, por lo que resulta inconveniente canjear millas en estos vuelos.

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    Ana Maria del Rosario Valencia says:

    I do share Carlos Levin’s comments about both, convenience of this offer to non-elite passengers and (sadly) about the abrupt termination of the AAdvantage program between the airline and Santander bank.

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    I agree with Carlos Levin’s comment, for those of us who live in Argentina, the fact of not being able to accumulate miles with Santandler Rio is a major shock after many years of loyalty to the program.

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    linda camusso says:

    Son buenas noticias! Pero no parece posible viajar con seguridad hasta el 2022. Sería bueno que extendieran los beneficios.

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    Leandro Rozen says:

    Hola! Con la pandemia, es bueno que saquen ofertas de tarifas tanto para alguien que es ELITE como para el que no lo es. Lo malo es que seguro la pandemia continue en el 2021 y tengan ofertas hasta el 31/12/2020, pero siempre que viaje por American, es una linea recomendada.

    Saludos desde Argentina!

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    carlos levin says:

    It´s always welcome to receive such good news from American Airlines. AAdvantage program is not a very generous one, so any improvement sounds great. It’s a pitty Santader Rio Bank in Argentina has signed out the program. Does anybody know how to earn miles in Argentina by means of another credit card?

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    I used to avoid basic economy – looks like there is a lot of turbulence with what they are offering still. I’m curious to see what this will be going forward as I truly do not see travel picking up (with the exception of, MAYBE, holiday travel) until Q1 2021.

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    Interesting update and very true that its not always the best idea to pay for the cheapest ticket in the long run.

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    Definitely great news for the leisure traveller with fixed travel dates.

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    This is great news for AA elites. I wonder if United will also follow with this change.

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    How good the changes for the economy class!
    Eagerly awaiting the flights in Argentina to be regularized.

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    This is nice. We tend to fly basic economy for family/weddings since we’re just trying to get there and back, rather than a real vacation.

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    Peter Nyholm says:

    It would be good to have a comparison with UA and DL.

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    crystal clear. very descriptive. Hope the coronavirus pandemic policies can continue in 2021.

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    Does Basic Economy still count toward Million Mile (Gold for Life) and 2 Million Mile (Platinum for Life) status?

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    Always great to see more positive changes in the industry!