American Airlines Updates Checked Bag Policy, Creates New Basic Economy Option

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American Airlines just announced several updates to its bag policy — some good, but mostly bad.

Going forward, all AA-operated Premium Economy tickets will now include two free checked bags. Also, AA has announced a new fare option for travelers to Asia and Oceania called “Basic Economy Plus Bag”. Lastly, all long-haul international Main Cabin tickets will now include one free checked bag. Unfortunately, the last two aren't quite the improvements that AA has framed them to be.

The idea behind the update is to “offer customers a more consistent and transparent booking experience”. However, for a policy meant to make things more consistent and transparent, it's pretty confusing. Let's sift through the details.

American Airlines just changed its bag policies

American Airlines Premium Economy Bag Policy Update

First the good news. AA is finally standardizing its baggage policy on Premium Economy tickets. Now, all Premium Economy tickets will get two free checked bags.

If you're wondering how this differs from the airline's old policy, it comes down to previous exclusions. Before February 23, 2021, Premium Economy tickets to Hawaii or Alaska only received one checked bag per passenger. Now, these routes also get two free bags.

This is the one aspect of AA's announcement that I think actually does make things more “consistent and transparent”. Just keep in mind that this only applies to routes where AA is offering a true Premium Economy product. Also, any Hawaii/Alaska Premium Economy tickets booked on or before February 22, 2021 will still incur a $40 fee for the second bag.

American Airlines' New “Basic Economy Plus Bag” Fare

American Airlines will now offer a new Basic Economy fare option for customers traveling to Asia and Oceania. It's called “Basic Economy Plus Bag”, and it supposedly provides the “low price of a non-changeable fare with a free checked bag”.

Don't let the marketing speak fool you. This is not a positive move for anyone.

What this announcement really entails is that AA will begin offering Basic Economy tickets on routes where Main Cabin was previously the lowest fare category. Now, AA customers can experience the excitement of flying Basic Economy (with reduced benefits and flexibility) on some of AA's longest segments—including flights to Australia, East Asia, and India. Oh, joy!

The reason I'm so sardonic about AA's new “Basic Economy Plus Bag” fare is the evidence that Basic Economy simply doesn't deliver what airlines promise. Every airline that has introduced a “Basic Economy” fare since the advent of the trend promised the ability to trade benefits and flexibility for lower fares.

But what did they deliver? Lowered benefits and flexibility for the same fares. Airlines use this tactic to effectively charge customers more money for the same level of previously standard service.

AA Long-Haul Main Cabin Bag Policy Update

I've saved the worst for last. From now on, all Main Cabin tickets on long-haul international routes will receive one free checked bag.

If you're not familiar with AA's baggage policies, this probably sounds like an improvement. Unfortunately, this is not an improvement. This is a marked downgrade. Before February 23, 2021, Main Cabin tickets on certain long-haul international routes received two free checked bags—including flights to/from:

  • Australia
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • South Korea

Yep—these are some of the same routes that now offer AA's exciting new Basic Economy Plus Bag fare. Now that AA offers a Basic Economy Plus Bag fare, it's lowered the number of free bags Main Cabin passengers receive.

Even worse, the new fee for the second checked bag now matches the highest that AA charges for any route:

American Airlines new bag fees

Final Thoughts

American Airlines announced several updates to its checked bag policy, plus added a new “Basic Economy Plus Bag” fare class for Asia and Oceania travelers. Aside from the standardization of Premium Economy receiving two free checked bags, I'm not a fan of these developments.

First, nobody in their right mind wants to fly Basic Economy on a transpacific flight. History shows us that fare prices won't decrease with the introduction of this lower fare class. Instead, AA travelers will now be forced to pay an ‘upcharge' to receive the same service that was previously standard.

Second, even if you do pay the upcharge for a Main Cabin ticket on these routes, you'll now only receive one free checked bag instead of two. This announcement is simply a downgrade written as if it were an upgrade.

Third, the introduction of any Basic Economy fare is bad news for travelers chasing AAdvantage elite status. Before, members could book the cheapest fare for a given flight and earn Elite Qualifying Dollars, Miles, and Segments as normal. Now, they'll have to pay more to get them since Basic Economy fares no longer earn any elite-qualifying credits.

Overall, AA's efforts to make its bag policy more “consistent and transparent” has, in reality, made it even more convoluted and confusing.

What do you think of American Airlines' new bag policies?

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Comments

  • Avatar

    TBH, It’s well received to have a standardization of 1 free bag on long-haul routes. It was extremely annoying to discover that this minimum rate of service is not guaranteed. On the other hand, let’s see how the play ends up for AA, it’s reducing the luggage allowance on routes which have very good competitors…Either they must offer REALLY good prices or they will end up rectifying…

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    At the end of the day if airlines do not charge you enough, they go bunkrupt. We are able to choose if there is competition, as long as it is clearly informed, I do not see an issue with this. Anyway, keep more things at home before travelling, and your back and budget will say thanks…!

    • Avatar

      The pandemic has made me a bit more generous with my compassion in several ways. I would have never thought I’d say it, but I now even have a bit of compassion for some businesses and airlines are in that group. As a result, for a time, I’m willing to cut them a healthy amount of slack as they are seriously challenged financially and must alter their business models somewhat to survive.

  • Avatar
    Eric aboutboul says:

    I really love and appreciate these updates to baggage policy, especially since in recent year the price for checked bags has been increasing!

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    AA lowest fare still only gives you one free bag. One reason I try to fly Southwest is they give you two free bags for all fares plus a care-on. Will still favor Southwest.

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    I like basic economy options, particularly on short flights. I think this is a good idea for AAL for the budget minded traveler especially after/during the pandemic.

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    Previously, if one combined in the same reservation a long-range flight with a local one in the US in the same reservation, the baggage allowance of the long-range flight was respected.
    Is this still valid with these modifications?

    • Avatar

      That’s a great question. This should still be the same. The long-haul baggage policy may have changed for the worse, but you should still get it for all flights on the same reservation as long as you check them all the way through.

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    Apart of the facts that there are more negatives changes than positives ones, I find the American Airlines luggage policy very complicated to follow.

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    Definitely not a “more consistent and transparent booking process.”

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    It seems like anytime an airline makes a policy change the overall change is negative. I have been buying economy tickets this year to avoid the dreaded middle seat.

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    American Airlines is claiming the changes “makes it easier” for customers. “Makes it easier” is equivalent in airline jargon to “enhancement” it appears.

    Not a good change.

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    When passengers are scarce, I expected better “inducements” to attract passengers. Least expected this when multiple airlines are vying for dwindling passengers.

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    Agreed with the other comments; I think this is a step backwards for AA and they will likely to lose passengers as a result!

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    This is correct. Basic economy is just a term used so that they can take away your benefits and charge you more to get it back.

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    This is already a thing for flights to and from Europe. It gets very confusing booking economy tickets

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    AA has just given people even MORE reason to fly with other airlines to Asia, in the middle of a pandemic when few are travelling. Not smart!

  • Avatar
    Bhuvana Muralidhar says:

    Very retrograde step by AA. Wonder why I should fly AA when I have other options.

  • Avatar
    Martin Zerman says:

    It seems like AA is trying to hide bad news with a marketing campaign. The reduction of free checked bags for long-haul flights is a major downgrade considering that usually in those flights is were passengers carry more luggage.

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    Looks like American is losing my loyalty.

  • Avatar
    Carlos Levin says:

    Cada modificación empeora las condiciones para los pasajeros!

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    any surprise here? Of course AA is doing everything to make up for the lost revenue of the Covid year. Unfortunately they are doing this in their typical anti-consumer manner

  • Avatar
    STEPHEN MILES JR says:

    * Always shop travel competitively. Google Flights + separate searches on LCC and other airlines own websites. Compare rates with the “extras” added on and see who ends up best deal. In Houston, American’s main cabin fares and Spirit with the extras added on often beat United’s same day same route basic economy fares.
    * If you do the above, you upgrade yourself for less money than if you concentrate your travel on one airline in order to gain elite status. So forget elite status, unless you fly so much that you can afford platinum or higher tier.