Earlier this year, American Airlines introduced Basic Economy fares to selected destinations. Customers buying these fares are only allowed to carry a personal item onboard that fits under the seat, have to board last, and do not receive seat assignments in advance. Elite members also receive reduced earning on qualifying segments and mileage, and do not receive any upgrades for these flights.
We compared the Basic Economy products across the big three legacy airlines, and American falls in the middle of the pack.
When it was launched in February 2017, American offered Basic Economy only in 10 selected markets, but then quickly expands Basic Economy to many more flights in the US, and more recently to Canadian destinations.
It looks like American is continuing their rollout of the Basic Economy product, as the fares are now available to a number of Caribbean destinations. From a spot check, I was able to find Basic Economy fares between the US and Aruba (AUA), Punta Cana (PUJ), Bridgetown, Barbados (BGI). In all cases, the price difference is $25 between Basic Economy and Main Cabin one-way.
Itineraries that require a connection do not appear to have Basic Economy available.
Airlines would like you to believe that Basic Economy represents a discount on fares they usually charge, but of course there is evidence that this is not the case. Instead of reducing existing prices to create a Basic Economy fare, airlines are simply adding what amounts to a “comfort/convenience tax” to existing prices to create new Regular Economy fares.
It is probably a matter of time before Basic Economy gets a systemwide rollout to include all flights. Delta has said that they are in the process of expanding the product worldwide, and United is rolling out the fare to Hawaii and Latin America.
Basic Economy seems to be getting an inevitable expansion across the board. The big 3 airlines have said that they are necessary to compete with low-cost carriers, but as we can see they are starting to implement on routes that fall outside of that rationale. Customers just need to be aware of the product they are buying and have the right expectation, and understand that Basic Economy most likely do not represent a discount from existing fares, but rather another opportunity for an upcharge.
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