American Airlines: Economy vs. Basic Economy

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Flying with American Airlines ranges from exclusive and personalized first-class experiences for long-distance travel to six common experiences, with priced tiered based on perks and amenities. The two most affordable of the choices included basic economy and economy (or main cabin, as they call it). So, what’s the difference between the two, and is it ever worth it to fly basic economy? 

What is basic economy?

If you’re looking for the lowest price in American Airlines’ main cabin, opt for the basic economy. These seats are basically just deeply discounted coach fares, and the restrictions aren’t that different from the economy tickets. The main difference is that you can’t choose your seat in advance. 

You’ll still fly comfortably in the main cabin, with free snacks (who else loves those Biscoff cookies?), non-alcoholic drinks (they’ll charge you per drink for alcohol), and access to robust inflight entertainment, like TV and movies. One personal item and one carry-on are permitted, but you’ll pay more ($30-$200) for additional checked bags.

What’s the difference between basic economy and economy on American Airlines?

What to expect from basic economy: 

With a basic economy ticket, you’re guaranteed your seat in the main cabin of the plane, but you will not be able to choose a specific seat at any time without a fee. If you care less about your seat placement, this is a more affordable option for you and you’ll be assigned your seat at check-in.

*Unless you’re an AAdvantage elite status member. Eligible AAdvantage credit card holders are exempt when flying within the U.S. and Canada.

What to expect from economy (also called main cabin): 

With American Airlines’ economy tickets, or main cabin as they’re also called, you are permitted one personal item and one bag for no charge. 

If you’re the type of traveler who needs an aisle seat or prefers peeking outside upon takeoff and landing, close to a window, you’ll want to select your seat ahead of time. Economy offers you this option, though American says it “makes every effort to ensure you get your chosen seat, but seat assignments are not guaranteed.”

You’ll also have access to free snacks, like Biscoff cookies or pretzels, and non-alcoholic drinks. You’ll also be able to pass the time through American’s inflight movie and TV options.* 

Is basic economy worth it?

Basic economy is exactly how it sounds: the cheapest seating available. It’s not only economy, it’s basic. So, depending on your needs and budget, for the savings alone it can certainly be worth it. If you don’t mind paying a bit extra to know your seat, though, you may want to book in the main cabin. 

If, for example, you need to check multiple bags, it can really add up when you’re required to pay for more than just your one carry-on. Or, if you much prefer selecting your own seat, which economy tickets won’t accommodate without an additional fee, another option might be a better route for you.

Workarounds to dodge some of the restrictions

You can save money with American Airlines basic economy fares if you’re traveling light or don’t care where you sit. And they’re an even better deal for folks with American Airlines credit cards.

That’s because with certain cards, you’ll be allowed a free checked bag on domestic flights and preferred or priority boarding, including:

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

But there’s no card that offers free seat selection on these flights.

Bottom line

American Airlines offers many different ticket-purchase options, some more inclusive of perks (and costly) than others. If you’re looking to save some dough, basic economy or economy routes are definitely worth a look. Especially if you have an American Airlines card that offers perks like a free checked bag on domestic flights.

*As part of a number of precautions the carrier is taking due to Covid-19, American is limiting its food and drink service in the main cabin. You are permitted to bring your own snacks and drinks on board.

Virginia Brown is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets. She covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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