American Airlines Basic Economy: 3 Tips to Get Around Restrictions

SAVING & SPENDING - TRAVEL
American Airlines strips away some perks to make basic economy tickets more affordable. Here’s how to avoid their restrictions.
Updated April 16, 2024
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Woman flying American Basic Economy

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If you’re a frugal traveler, you know it’s easy to find cheap flights if you don’t mind ditching some of the standard features included in pricier tickets. In an effort to keep prices low for customers, many airlines have introduced basic economy options.

While these tickets can save you a lot of extra cash, you could end up paying more later on if you’re not aware of the restrictions. For example, most airlines will charge you extra to carry on a bag or choose your seat, features that are typically included in other classes.

But that doesn’t mean you have to forego convenience and comfort in order to snag a great deal on a flight. Here are several ways to avoid Basic Economy ticket restrictions on American Airlines, including using certain rewards credit cards.

In this article

What is Basic Economy on American Airlines?

American Airlines introduced Basic Economy fares in February of 2017, joining other major airlines in offering an affordable, no-frills ticket. But in doing so, the carrier did away with many of the features included in main cabin ticket prices.

As a result, flying Basic Economy can feel pretty inconvenient in comparison. Here’s what to expect.

Baggage rules

When American Airlines first began offering Basic Economy tickets, only one personal item was included in the ticket cost. But last year, American Airlines began allowing one carry-on plus one personal item at no additional cost. This sets American airlines apart from many other carriers, which often don’t allow a carry-on bag with their lowest price fares.

Checked bags cost extra for both basic economy and main cabin customers. Only premium economy, business, and first class passengers get complimentary checked bags included with their tickets, but there are some other ways to get free checked bags, which we’ll discuss later on.

Seating and boarding

With your Basic Economy ticket, your seat will be randomly assigned to you at check-in. That means you might get stuck in the middle between two people who have the audacity to take both armrests (I’m speaking from experience here). Families can be split up as well, but American Airlines will assign seats so that children under 15 are next to at least one accompanying adult. If you want to choose a specific seat, you’ll be charged an additional fee.

Your Basic Economy ticket entitles you to board with the last boarding group, which will be either group 8 or 9 depending on where you’re flying. However, certain credit cardholders and AAdvantage elite members may be eligible to board earlier. Knowing this, it makes sense to compare the best travel credit cards to get the perks you want. 

Flight changes and cancellations

Your Basic Economy ticket doesn't allow you to change your domestic flight and you also won't be eligible for same-day changes or standby. However, you can get a partial refund for your ticket (minus a $99 fee). That’s why it can be risky to book a Basic Economy ticket. Since the change fee for other passengers is a whopping $200 for domestic flights, you’re not really risking much if you can score your Basic Economy ticket for less than $200.

For international flights, American Airlines does allow flight changes on Basic Economy tickets, but expect a hefty fee.

AAdvantage points and benefits

AAdvantage members can earn points based on the ticketed value of their Basic Economy flight. You can also earn Loyalty Points, which could help toward earning American Airlines elite status.

Upgrades

Regardless of elite status, customers who book Basic Economy tickets are not eligible for upgrades with American Airlines.

How to make American’s Basic Economy more convenient

If you’ve come to expect the conveniences that come with a Main Cabin ticket purchase, flying Basic Economy might feel like a bit of a shock to you. When you’re exhausted from traveling, boarding last and getting a seat you’re not comfortable in can be a huge hassle. Thankfully, there are some ways to sidestep some of the restrictions that come with a Basic Economy ticket.

1. Become an AAdvantage elite member

AAdvantage is the American Airlines loyalty program, which allows frequent fliers to earn elite status and be eligible for additional perks every time they fly. To reach the first elite tier, which is AAdvantage Gold, you’ll need to earn 30,000 Loyalty Points. 

Loyalty Points can be earned by flying, making eligible purchases with co-branded American Airlines credit cards, and taking advantage of offers from American Airlines partners. You typically earn one Loyalty Point for each base mile you earn on purchases with applicable credit cards.

2. Become a Oneworld elite member

Oneworld is an airline alliance with many partner airlines, including American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Finnair, and more. To achieve elite status with Oneworld, you need to first reach elite status through one of the loyalty programs of their partner airlines. So if you haven’t flown American Airlines this year, you could still be eligible for perks if you’ve earned enough miles on British Airways, for example.

Oneworld Ruby members will get priority check-in and pre-reserved seating, and Emerald and Sapphire tiers will also get priority boarding, extra baggage allowance, and access to lounges.

3. Get an American Airlines credit card

If you’re looking to reach elite status through AAdvantage and avoid some of the restrictions on your Basic Economy ticket, getting an American Airlines credit card can help you reach your goal much faster.

Between the generous welcome offers and higher rewards rates associated with these cards, you might be surprised how quickly you can reach the tier you want. And many of these cards also come with additional travel perks and savings opportunities that you can start enjoying now. Here are some of the best airline credit cards co-branded with American Airlines. 

Card Basic Economy perks Other American Airlines perks Annual fee
American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp®
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services; 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases; and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
  • 25% off in-flight food and beverage purchases
$0
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
  • Preferred boarding
  • First checked bag free
  • 25% off in-flight food and beverage purchases
  • Earn miles faster
$99 (waived first year)
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in and screening
  • First checked bag free
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit
  • 25% off in-flight food and beverage purchases
  • Admirals Club membership
  • Earn miles faster
$595
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®
  • Preferred boarding
  • First checked bag free
  • 25% off in-flight food, beverage, and WiFi purchases
  • Earn miles faster
$99 (waived first year)

FAQs about AA Basic Economy

What is the difference between Main Cabin and Basic Economy?

With both Main Cabin and Basic Economy tickets, you’ll get a free carry-on, free snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, and free entertainment.

The difference is that Main Cabin passengers can select their seats ahead of time and are eligible for upgrades, flight changes, and standby.

Customers may also choose a Main Cabin Extra seat, which provides more legroom and includes early boarding and free beer, wine, and spirits.

Does Basic Economy guarantee a seat?

Yes. If you purchase a Basic Economy ticket for an American Airlines flight, you will be guaranteed a seat on that flight. However, you will be assigned your seat randomly at check-in, unless you pay a fee to select your seat ahead of time. You will also board with the last group.

Can I upgrade from Basic Economy on American Airlines?

No, Basic Economy customers aren’t typically eligible for upgrades, though you might be if you have elite status.

Does American Airlines Basic Economy include food?

Basic Economy customers will receive the same in-flight service as Main Cabin customers, which includes complimentary snacks, drinks, and entertainment. Some longer flights may also include a meal.

Bon voyage

When considering whether to purchase a Main Cabin or Basic Economy ticket, consider the cost. If you can get a domestic Basic Economy ticket for a steal, we say go for it, especially if you can get around some of the restrictions with your elite status or credit card. Then again, if you want peace of mind (or extra leg room), paying more for a higher class ticket might be worth it to you.

It’s a good strategy to look at everything that’s available to you as a cardmember or elite AAdvantage member and consider what restrictions you’re willing to live with to get a lower price. Whether you choose to save money on a Basic Economy ticket or pay for extra perks, we hope you enjoy your flight!

Earn American Airlines AAdvantage® miles

4.0

American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp®

Current Offer

Earn 15,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$0

Rewards Rate

2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services; 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases; and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks
Card Details

Author Details

Lindsay Frankel Lindsay Frankel is a Denver-based freelance writer who specializes in credit cards, travel, budgeting/saving, and shopping. She has been featured in several finance publications, including LendingTree. When she's not writing, you can find her enjoying the great outdoors, playing music, or cuddling with her rescue pup.

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