American’s New ‘Basic Economy’ Fares Sound Great … If You’re Traveling Naked

Would you trade overhead bin space for a cheaper ticket?

January 19, 2017 9:00 am

Once again, American Airlines is following its competitors into nasty skies. 

Last year, AA became the last of the three U.S. legacy carriers (along with United and Delta) to adapt a revenue-based system for its frequent flyer program — putting an end to decades of flyers’ efforts to gently game a system. No longer would a cheap ticket reap the same rewards as a pricy one.

Now, American’s following United’s lead in offering a bottom-tier class: Basic Economy.

What it will include: transportation.

What it won’t: overhead bins. If you show up with bags-in-hand regardless, expect to pay through the teeth: “Instead of paying $25 for the first bag at the check-in counter, basic economy passengers will need to fork over at least $50 to gate-check their bags (a bag-check charge plus a $25 gate-handling fee).”

If that’s not sufficiently enjoyable, snack on this: United at least forbids their Basic Economy customers from checking in online, which could give passengers the opportunity to scamper past gate agents with a forbidden bag — unless they qualify for free check-on bags or have prepaid for checked luggage. 

Welcome to flying in 2017. 

American will begin selling Basic Economy seats in late February. That’s when we’ll find out if the new class of tickets are actually less expensive than the airline’s current cheapest fares. The worry, of course, is that we’ll be paying the same — just for fewer amenities.

The solution? Maintain your alliance or sign up for an airline’s credit card (both of which often include free checked bags and/or priority boarding). Fly international carriers when heading overseas. 

Oh, P.S.: American posted profits of $6.3 billion in 2016. We hope the shareholders are happy, even if their passengers aren’t. 


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.