Complete Guide to American Airlines Basic Economy Complete Guide to American Airlines Basic Economy

Complete Guide to American Airlines Basic Economy

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Over the past decade, more and more airlines have started offering basic economy tickets. These are simple, low-cost tickets that offer zero thrills. Basically, you get what you pay for. American Airlines started offering basic economy tickets in 2017, following other legacy carriers like Delta and United.

In this article, we'll go over everything you need to know about American Airlines' Basic Economy tickets.

What is American Airlines Basic Economy?

Basic Economy tickets are the lowest-priced tickets available from American Airlines. Because of the low price point, some limitations and restrictions apply to these tickets. Your seat is still in the main cabin, and you'll enjoy benefits like free drinks, snacks, and in-flight entertainment offered to the passengers next to you (who may have paid more for their seats). However, you lose out on benefits like free checked bags and choosing your seats ahead of time.

Photo of Main Cabin on an American Airlines Boeing 787
Photo of Main Cabin on an American Airlines Boeing 787. Credit: American Airlines

American Airlines Basic Economy Restrictions

American Airlines Basic Economy tickets offer fewer perks than standard Main Cabin tickets. While both provide seats in the main (economy) cabin of the plane, Basic Economy tickets have the following rules:

  • Seat selection is not included in your ticket. Instead, you can pay an additional fee to choose your seat. Otherwise, seats will be assigned at random during check-in. To keep families together, the system will assign children under 15 a seat with at least one adult in their party.
  • Basic Economy fares will board last. You'll board in group 8 or 9, depending on your destination. However, elite members and AAdvantage credit cardholders will board in the group they normally board with when holding any other economy ticket.
  • The only option for changing your ticket is on the day of your flight. Fees will apply. Otherwise, you're stuck with the ticket you booked.

Comparing American Airlines Basic Economy to Main Cabin Tickets

Maybe you're trying to decide if the money you're saving by booking a basic economy ticket is worth it. Let's look at the differences between ticket types.

First, the most notable difference is that a Main Cabin ticket includes your first checked bag free for transatlantic flights, transpacific flights, and flights to South America (excluding Guyana and Suriname). Basic Economy tickets do not.

Second, a Main Cabin ticket includes the ability to change your flight ahead of time, while a Basic Economy ticket does not. Third, seat selection is free for Main Cabin tickets. Basic Economy ticket holders will have to pay an additional fee to select their seats ahead of time.

Basic Economy Baggage Restrictions

There are some important baggage rules to be aware of when booking a basic economy ticket with American Airlines:

  • You're allowed one carry-on and one personal item. The carry-on must fit in the overhead bins, and the personal item must fit under the seat in front of you. This is the same as Main Cabin tickets; however, because you will board last, the overhead bins may be full, and you may be required to gate-check your bag.
  • Checked bags will be charged at $30 per bag, per way for domestic, Mexico, Haiti, Guyana, Suriname, Caribbean, and Central American flights. Prices are $45 per bag each way to Panama and South America, and $75 per bag, per way for transatlantic and transpacific flights. These prices are for the first checked bag only. You can check the American Airlines website for the price of checking more than one bag.

However, you can still enjoy your free checked bag perks if you hold an American Airlines co-branded credit card. That may be one of the chief reasons to hold a card with AA.

a person picks up luggage from a baggage carousel

Mileage Earnings on American Airlines Basic Economy

In 2021, American Airlines overhauled its AAdvantage program and made it easier than ever to earn Loyalty Points and gain elite status. Loyalty Points are now the only metric for earning status with American Airlines, and even basic economy tickets qualify. Travelers flying on an American Airlines Basic Economy ticket will earn two base miles and Loyalty Points per dollar spent. Basic economy tickets used to earn the same as standard economy tickets, but this reduction in 2022 means you won't earn the five points per dollar that other AAdvantage members with no status earn. However, it's better than nothing.

Benefits of Being an Elite Member or Cardholder

Some of the downsides to American Airlines Basic Economy tickets can be overcome by being an AAdvantage elite status member or holding an AA credit card. Here are some of the benefits you'll add onto your trip:

  • First checked bag free, plus additional bags free depending on your status, for eligible AAdvantage status members and AAdvantage cardmembers when traveling on flights operated by American Airlines.
  • Standard boarding group privileges. This includes Group 5 boarding for most cardmembers, and Groups 2-4 for Elite members, depending on your status.
  • Complimentary Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seat benefits, based on AAdvantage status.
  • Complimentary confirmed same-day flight changes, available for AAdvantage Executive Platinum and AAdvantage Platinum Pro members.
  • Regular access to upgrade privileges, including systemwide upgrades.

Since you'll enjoy your regular checked bag benefits and priority boarding privileges with an American Airlines credit card, it's worth checking out this post: Which Citi American Airlines AAdvantage Credit Card is Right for You?


American Airlines Basic Economy tickets are some of the best on the market. For comparison, United Airlines doesn't include a carry-on bag in its Basic Economy ticket. Although you're giving up some perks when flying on basic economy tickets, they're still a great choice for travelers who only need a carry-on bag and don't need the flexibility of other ticket fares. They're also great for cost savings for those of us who hold a co-branded card that circumvents some of the basic economy ticket restrictions.

Do you buy basic economy tickets? Or are the restrictions/reduced earnings too much for you?

4.6 / 5 - (13 votes)
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  • In case we have Gold status as well as the Citi credit card, does it help us get 2 free checked bags instead of 1 when booking basic economy?

  • I’ve only ever flown domestically, so maybe different destinations/planes offer a different view, but I’ve always been in a one-cabin plane with everyone else and never understood the difference between the different tickets and their prices. We’re all in the same space breathing the same air, yet some people are flying for less than others and it always confused me. Never understood the boarding groups either. Now I’m starting to understand a little better. So what’s the difference, then, between main cabin and business class?

  • Bobby Bowman says:

    Just traveled on a basic economy ticket with American (2 passengers on same reservation). Both legs of the journey split the seat assignments so that neither of us were allowed to seat together. Have not experienced this on similar “basic economy” fares on United, Spirit, or Frontier. Have other passengers experienced the same situation.

  • Seems like they will nickle and dime you in any way they can.

  • Wow. Absolutely NO changes, even with a fee. How consumer (un)friendly. Can’t believe how AA has changed over the years/decade. 🙁

  • says:

    With status I really don’t want to give up some of my perks to save $10. I’ll pass

  • Personally, I prefer the old bundled fares. I doubt I will take this option.

  • Wow, you can’t even reserve a seat until the last 48 hours, and there is an extra fee. Only seats left will probably be center seats. And if you have to ask how much the fee is, you probably can’t afford it.

    Guess it could be good for tiny/skinny people who have an AA credit card so that they can still bring something with them on their travels without paying a fee.

  • If you’re pinching pennies on your airfare, why fly American (or Delta or United for that matter). With basic fares you get nothing, no chance of elite levels, may as well go with the airline offering the lowest fare at the best time of day. They are not loyal to you, why should you be to any one of them?

  • Another “enhancement” from legacy airlines. Bring on the foreign competition I say.

  • Just more reasons in my “pro” column to get another card..

  • No surprise the airline companies are reviewing their price-policies.
    Anyway, the bad thing in the American basic economy is the fact you can’t bring with you a cabin luggage, even though it’s not clear if you can (and put it under the seat).

  • Is the first checked bag free with all AA credit cards? I have the Citi AA Gold WorldElite Master Card and was wondering if this card will get me a free checked bag and priority boarding. Thanks!

  • Wow! Everyday AA is more looking like a Low Cost Airlines. Since January, travels MÍA-CCs-MÍA dont bring anymore meals included In The fare

  • I do think this is a great idea offering low fares where you only get under seat space for a bag. If a few people choose this option it might make the whole baggage storage issues easier, and stop luggage needing to be gate checked sometimes.

  • I do have a Citi AA card so I can avoid most of the fees but the major concern for me is the seat assignment. Most of my travels are with family and breaking up group is definitely not acceptable. 🙁

  • I guess the sweet spot on this would be to book last minute on a pretty empty plane. Though, it all depends on the price.

  • This sounds like the Spirit business model.

  • This is awful Once again giving less and less to the occasional traveler. We had gone from no food being served to no luggage allowed.

  • The basic economy strategy will still exist but luckily just a couple of days ago the DOT put forth a potential new piece of legislation that would make declaring the price of all of the ancillary fees (baggage fees, ticket change fees, seat selection fees, check-in fees, fee differences at the airport instead of online) MANDATORY during the purchase of the ticket to an extent even more than now. So while the airlines will break the fare down into its separate elements those prices will still have to be readily visible to the consumer during the ticket purchase process which should help make buying a basic economy fare a lot more straightforward and will help to prevent people from being caught off-guard by fees they didn’t know about

  • If the basic economy fares are actually substantially lower than the regular main cabin fares, then I think this is a pretty good option for those of us who don’t travel with large carry-ons and don’t care about seat assignments.

  • the downhill slide of the travel experience continues. pretty soon we will be placed in coffin-like boxes and loaded my some machine. Ultimately we’ll get a sleeping drug injection and then shrink wrapped and stacked like cordwood.

    Seriously, I expect to start paying for chair rental in waiting areas, soft drinks on flights and access to intra-airport conveyances (escalators, moving sidewalks, trams, etc.) in the near future.

  • So now I have another reason to think about keeping AA card open

  • Unless the price difference is really all that drastic I can only see this being useful in very limited situations.

  • This seems like a push to get AA card holders. The $95 annual fee could easily be justified with the overhead bin for the large personal item, free first checked bag and the group 1 boarding. Might be worth looking into if you have the credit card. Otherwise, pack light and get used to the middle seat by the lav!

  • Is the First Checked bag free with AA credit card?

  • I suspect most of us who read this site and others aren’t going to be the type to book this fare. That said, there may be some benefit for those out there who are just needing a cheap flight somewhere, and aren’t necessarily concerned about comfort, amenities, etc. Will it work? We’ll see. In the end the market will speak.

  • Not that bad you still earn reduced millage.


    It seems that this option might be attractive if you are a holder of a AA co-branded credit card. You would still board with group 1 or 2 and you can have a overhead bin carry-on with no fee.

  • ADAM PARSONS says:

    Hope their basic E doesn’t become as bad as BA..

  • This is consisten with the debundling of the airline ticket and the travelling experience into a myriad ancillary revenue streams

  • I wonder how much the total will be if you add all the stuff they remove? I’m thinking it will be higher than the “normal fare” after all the fees (w/ taxes) get added to the basic economy fare.

  • Not bad if you have status or a card, but a double edged sword here – hard to maintain status since you aren’t earning full miles. If these tickets only save a few bucks wouldn’t be worth it unless you only fly a few times per year and don’t care about miles. In this case, an airline credit card would still give you good seats, boarding and carry ons.

  • if have aa credit card, then will not be much difference with regular economy. The next question is, how much less is basic economy gonna be…

  • Personally, it’d be hard for me to book basic economy. Booking this fare seems that you’d likely end up in a middle seat somewhere in the back.