How To Beat American Airlines Basic Economy

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By: Travis Cormier

Hey Travel Junkies,

I love to travel as much as possible. Despite what it may seem, I do fly economy from time to time.

Just last year, I even made the journey to Hawaii in economy and survived just fine. You can even catch me on Spirit Airlines for domestic flights — albeit, usually in the Big Front Seat.

Even avid points/miles geeks travel in economy from time to time

To compete with low cost carriers like Spirit, legacy airlines have introduced a new fare class called Basic Economy. I’ll go into more detail about basic economy later, but 10xTravel Editor in Chief Spencer Howard summed it up well:

“Basic economy comes with little more than a spot on the plane.”

Unfortunately, many unsuspecting travelers see the lower costs of a basic economy ticket without knowing what they’re really getting. This can lead to extra fees that add up quickly.

Today, I’m going to show you how to beat American Airlines basic economy.

Major carries have launched basic economy fares to compete with budget carriers

First, we will look at the benefits you can get from a Co-Branded American Airlines Card. Second, we will look at American Airlines Basic Economy limitations and how your credit card benefits can help you beat them.

Beat Basic Economy with a Co-Branded American Card

With a co-branded credit card you can save a lot of money on your American Airlines basic economy ticket. The following cards have benefits that will help you beat basic economy:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World EliteTM Mastercard®
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select World EliteTM Mastercard®
  • CitiBusiness / AAdvantage® Platinum Select World EliteTM Mastercard®
  • AAdvantage® AviatorTM Red Mastercard®
  • AAdvantage® AviatorTM Business Mastercard®

You can learn about these cards and more by visiting our credit cards page.

american airlines basic economy

Airline credit cards are a great way to “beat” basic economy

With one of these co-branded credit cards, your first checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines flights. This benefit even extends to 4 travel companions on your reservation. If you have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World EliteTM Mastercard® this benefit extends to 8 travel companions on your reservation.

You’ll also receive preferred boarding in group 5, which is the earliest you can board after flyers with status or those traveling in premium cabins. If you have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World EliteTM Mastercard® you will board even earlier in priority boarding group 4.

You don’t need to purchase your ticket with your co-branded American Airlines card to get the benefits. The benefit is earned just for having the card. If you do choose to book with your co-branded card, you may receive additional perks. The Citi AAdvantage credit cards have additional travel perks, like trip delay protection, that you receive when you book your trip with the card.

Let’s take a deeper look at American Airlines Basic Economy restrictions, fees, and how these card benefits help you beat Basic Economy.

American Airlines Basic Economy Rules

Basic economy is the way major airlines are competing with low cost carriers such as Spirit, Frontier, Norwegian and WOW Air. In order to compete with low prices, major airlines have to find a way to cut their costs. This is where Basic Economy comes into play. The experience you’ll have flying Spirit and Basic Economy will be somewhat similar.

If you purchase a basic economy fare on American Airlines, you should expect the following rules to apply.

Baggage Rules

As of September 5th, 2018, the following baggage rules will apply to American Airlines basic economy tickets.

You will receive 1 personal item and 1 carry-on bag. A personal item can be no larger than 18 x 14 x 8 inches and a carry-on bag can be no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches. If your bag is too big, you’ll have to gate check it. Not only will you have to pay the checked bag fee, you’ll also owe an extra $25 gate fee, so be sure your bag fits.

You can bring 1 carry on and 1 personal item when traveling on an AA basic economy ticket

Of course, if you want to check a bag, that will also cost you. If you’re flying within Canada, Mexico, the U.S. and the Caribbean, your first checked bag will cost $25. A second bag will cost $35 and 3 bags will cost $150. If Europe is your destination, your first checked bag will cost $60. Your second bag will cost $100 and a third will cost $200.

Understandably, baggage fees are one of the most frequent complaints about basic economy. While you can’t beat them all with a co-branded card, you can save on your bags on domestic flights.

For an average family of 4, you can save $200 on a round-trip ticket if everyone brings a checked bag. If you are traveling with a larger family, the baggage benefit on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World EliteTM Mastercard® can be provided for the card-holder and up to 8 additional flyers for a savings of $450.

Seat Assignment

With basic economy, you’ll either have to pay for an advanced seat assignment or have one assigned upon check-in. If you choose to not purchase a seat assignment, your seat will be assigned for free at check-in, based on availability. This means your family may not be able to sit together, or you may be stuck in a middle seat next to the lavatory for an 8 hour flight to Europe.

With basic economy, you’ll either have to pay for an advanced seat assignment or have one assigned upon check-in

If you want to select seats, you can pay a fee to select them in advance. If you’re flying within the US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, you can pay to select your seat up to 48 hours before departure. If you’re flying to or from Europe, you can pay at the time of your booking.

Paying to select your seat does not include any additional fees for desirable seats such as exit rows or the bulkhead. You will still have to pay that seat cost on top of the seat selection fee.

Unfortunately, none of the American Airlines co-branded credit cards will provide complimentary seat selection. There are quite a few credit cards with travel credits that you can use to cover seat assignment costs. This can help guarantee that you sit with your family, or guarantee that you aren’t in a middle seat for a cross-country flight.

Boarding Group

Basic economy tickets are the last people to board the plane. If you’re flying within the US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean you will board in group 9. When flying to or from Europe, you will board in group 8.

Basic economy tickets are the last people to board the plane

Why does boarding group matter? If you have a carry-on bag, you’ll have the last choice for space for your carry-on. This means you may be sitting at the front of the plane while your bag is at the back. On long-haul flights, this can be especially inconvenient if you have any medication or entertainment stored in your carry-on that you want access to throughout the flight.

With a co-branded credit card you will keep your preferred boarding benefits even when flying basic economy. You will board in group 4 with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World EliteTM Mastercard®, or group 5 with any other co-branded card. This means you will have access to plenty of overhead storage space for your carry-ons.

Although this seems like a small luxury, easy access to chargers, snacks, and entertainment makes a big quality of life difference on a long international flight.

Final Thoughts

Many travelers get caught off guard by basic economy fares. If you don’t know what you’re paying for, you can quickly have a bill at the airport for hundreds of dollars just for bags.

WIth the right co-branded credit card, many of the fees that come with basic economy can easily be avoided. It makes it easy to justify the annual fee when it can save you hundreds of dollars. Be sure to pick up an American Airlines co-branded credit card if you will fly frequently on the low cost basic economy fares.

Travel in Style,


Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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  • Reply Paola August 27, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    Can an authorized user on the aviator red use the boarding and free bags benefit if the owner of the account is not on the reservation?

    • Reply BryceConway August 28, 2018 at 9:56 am


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