American Airlines Just Announced Basic Economy, But Will it Actually Save You Money?

American Airlines is joining likes of Delta and United by offering “basic economy” service. Delta was the first to announce their basic economy product (E Class), followed by United, then finally American. (not to be outdone)

The big question we all have is this; Are basic economy seats going to be cheaper in the long run, or are they just going to strip away benefits?


American Basic Economy

Isn’t coach already basic?

I laughed the first time I heard Delta was going to offer their ‘E-Class’ service that was lower than “coach”. You are already limited when buying a coach ticket, so what more could they possibly remove to help lower the cost? Don’t worry, they have you covered.

For starters, you are only allowed to carry on ONE bag when flying American Airlines Basic Economy. That single bag must be able to fit under your seat, you won’t have access to overhead bins. This one bag must not exceed:

  • 18 x 14 x 8 inches


I like this Ciao Weekender bag which can be purchased on Amazon for about $55. It measure roughly 15″ x 14″ x 8.5″. That extra half-inch should be no issue since the sides of the bag are soft and will compress if need be.


Ciao UnderSeat Weekender bag


Pick your seat, or don’t

American Airlines Basic Economy does not allow you to reserve a seat at the time of booking. You are only able to choose a seat within 48 hours of departure, but even that will cost you. If you don’t want to pay, you can just wait until boarding when the gate agent will assign one to you. Families and couples run the risk that they will not be seated together. If you MUST be seated with your family/spouse, keep this fee in mind.

We are yet to know the cost to reserve a seat when purchasing a Basic Economy ticket, but I will guess about $10-$18. That fee will almost certainly be PER flight, as with existing coach tickets. Sadly, your choices will be very slim just 48 hours before departure, don’t expect to sit up front and on the aisle.

Why are the three biggest airlines now offering a basic economy fare?

You can thank Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant for this one. You see, these three low-cost-carriers (LCC) offer rock-bottom pricing but include ZERO extras. You’ll have to pay for any bag larger than a backpack or purse, just like American is now implementing with their Basic Economy (and United, see below). Also, seat assignments of any kind will cost you, just like American. If you forget to print out your boarding pass at home, the low-cost-carriers will charge you a fee. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem that American will make you pay for a single sheet of paper with ink, A.K.A. your boarding pass.

In order for the big three, United, Delta, and American, to stay competitive, they have to be able to compete with the enticing fares offered by LCC. Spirit Airlines alone operates over 400 flights per day in/out of the US. Frontier added over 40 new routes last year, their reach is getting larger not smaller.

How The Big Three Compare

Now that the “big three” are offering basic economy, let’s look at how they differ.


• American – One item, must fit under seat – cannot exceed 18″ x 14″ x 8″
• Delta – Same allowance as regular economy – one item under your seat and one above
• United – One item, must fit under seat – cannot exceed 9″ x 10″ x 17″


• American – No advance reservations – can choose a seat within 48 hours of departure for a fee
• Delta – No advance reservations of any kind – seat will be randomly assigned at check-in or at the gate
• United – No advance reservations of any kind – seat will be randomly assigned at check-in


• American: Basic Economy is the last boarding group – *AAdvantage elite status members or eligible AAdvantage credit cardmembers board as normal
• Delta: Basic Economy is the last boarding group – *Medallion customers, others with elite status, and Delta SkyMiles American Express credit card holders board as normal
• United – Basic Economy is the last boarding group – *MileagePlus Premier member, primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star Alliance Gold member board as normal


• American – No seat upgrades regardless of status
• Delta – No seat upgrades regardless of status
• United – No seat upgrades regardless of status


Earning Miles:
• American – EQMs and EQSs earned at a reduced rate of 0.5 per mile/flight segment flown
• Delta – 100% base miles and MQM’s for miles flown
• United – You will earn redeemable miles but will not earn elite-qualifying credit, miles, segments or elite-qualifying dollars


What airline makes the most sense?

What would be the benefits of flying Basic Economy on American, Delta or United as opposed to any of the three Low-Cost-Carriers? Assuming a matching flight on American and Spirit are priced similarly, here is why I would choose an American (or Delta/United) Basic Economy seat over any of the three LCC’s:

1. American Airlines seats still offer 2″-3″ more legroom than Spirit, Frontier or Allegiant
2. American will still offer free drinks and snacks, yes, even water costs with the three LCC’s
3. American has a huge infrastructure should a plane have maintenance issues or a pilot become ill, etc. They can offer better alternatives
4. On time performance of American and Delta far exceeds Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant. (United has sub-par on time performance)
5. Most American Airlines aircraft, along with United and Delta, offer some form of in-flight entertainment/WiFi, the LCC’s offer little to none
6. American, United, and Delta won’t charge an increased fee to check your bag at the airport, all three of the LLC’s charge more and more the longer you wait to pay for a checked bag or additional carry-on (IE: paying at the airport counter versus paying while booking)

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