American Airlines Airplane Flying

American Airlines Basic Economy: How to Save Money & Maximize Benefits

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

Thinking about booking an American Airlines Basic Economy flight?

Basic economy fares can be very helpful to make visiting your next destination more affordable. But, these cost savings come with a few tradeoffs. 

These tradeoffs could be worth the lower cost fares for some, but basic economy is not for everybody. 

In this guide, let’s talk about what you need to know about these basic economy fares on American Airlines and how to leverage American Airlines credit card perks to make the experience closer to that of a main cabin economy ticket.

American Airlines Basic Economy:
How to Save Money & Maximize Benefits

Just like other airlines, American Airlines offers an unbundled economy service at a lower price point than standard economy. However, it’s met with several restrictions. 

American Airlines offers their basic economy routes domestically and internationally. And compared to United’s basic economy fares, American Airlines is more generous with what they offer their basic economy passengers. 

Yet even though, American Airlines may be more generous, there are plenty of things to consider before purchasing a basic economy fare on American Airlines. 

What is basic economy on American Airlines?

American Airlines Airplane Flying

No matter which airline you’re flying, basic economy comes with airline-specific restrictions. The restrictions for American Airlines’ basic economy are different based on the route you’re flying. 

When flying within the US, Canada, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, the restrictions are:

  • No checked baggage
  • Only allowed 1 full size carry on and 1 personal item
  • Allowed to pay for seat selection only 7 days before departure
  • Eligible for upgrades
  • No changes allowed 
  • Group 9 boarding 

If you’re flying to/from Europe, South America, or Africa, the restrictions are:

  • No checked baggage
  • Only allowed 1 full size carry on and 1 personal item.  
  • Allowed to pay for seat selection at the time of booking
  • Eligible for upgrades
  • Most changes not allowed (Flights starting from outside the Americas have no fee, although a fare difference may apply.)
  • Group 8 boarding

No matter which route you’re flying, if you have elite status with American Airlines, you’ll receive a checked bag when flying basic economy. 

Carry on items can be no larger than 22”x 14” x 9” and will need to fit in the overhead bin. A personal item must be no larger than 18” x 14” x 8” and fit under the seat in front of you.

If you decide NOT to pay for a seat assignment, American Airlines will assign a seat during check-in.

However, if you DO decide to pay for a seat assignment, consider how airline credits that come with travel rewards credit cards can offset the fees.

For example, this could be a great use of your Platinum Card® from American Express airline credits if American Airlines is your selected airline.

What about families traveling with young children?

Family with kids at airport

For families traveling together, American Airlines makes its policy clear.

If you’re traveling with a child under 15 years old and choose not to pay for seating assignments, American Airlines will do its best to put families together.

But, in the event they can’t place an entire family together, children under 15 years old, will be assigned next to 1 adult included in the family reservation.

This is the good news. But, if you wanted to sit together as a whole family, then you’re better off paying for seat assignments or avoiding basic economy altogether.

Do I receive my American Airlines credit card benefits?

Baggage claim at airport

One of the great benefits of co-branded airline credit cards is the free checked bag and priority boarding.

For cardholders of one of the following American Airlines credit cards:

  • Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select 
  • Citi AAdvantage Executive 
  • CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select 
  • Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Silver
  • Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red
  • Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard

You WILL receive your Group 5, priority boarding, instead of boarding in the last group. And, you’ll be allowed a free checked bag for you and up to 4 companions.

While you get a free checked bag for holding one of the credit cards listed above, the benefit is only valid for flights within the U.S. and Canada.

Cardholders flying to or from Europe can pay a fee to check a bag the same as if it was a standard economy ticket for an international route.

Best of all, these cardholder benefits are linked to your frequent flier account so you don’t need to pay for your flights with your American Airlines credit card.

Instead, pay for your flight with a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® to earn Ultimate Rewards points and receive great travel protections. 

Basic Economy American Airlines Check-In

If you’re flying basic economy on American Airlines, you CAN check in online, through their app, or at the airport with no restrictions.

This is a great time-saver because being required to check in at the airport as with United’s basic economy fares, can be time-consuming depending on your departing airport. 

Can I book a basic economy fare with my Chase Ultimate Rewards points?

If you’re someone who prefers to utilize your Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase Travel portal, then you’re in luck! 

When you search in the Ultimate Rewards portal, you can book basic economy tickets and Chase does a great job explaining what’s included in your fare. 

In this example, flying nonstop between New York to Los Angeles (JFK to LAX), a basic economy fare on American Airlines would be $306.60.

If you hold a travel rewards credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you’d redeem your Ultimate Rewards points at 1.5 cents per point and pay only 20,440 Ultimate Rewards points. 

If you have any of the American Airlines credit cards that offer a free checked bag, all you need to do is add your American Airlines frequent flyer number to the booking. You’ll receive your checked bag and priority boarding as normal.

Unlike the United restrictions, there’s no requirement to pay any portion of the fare with your American Airlines credit card to receive your cardholder benefits.

Will I earn AA miles flying a basic economy fare?

When flying basic economy, you’ll earn American Airlines miles based on the ticket value, just like you would for a standard economy ticket. 

Mileage earning rates start at 5 miles per dollar, and increase with your status level, up to 75,000 miles per ticket. Your earning rate can be as high as 11 miles per dollar if you are an Executive Platinum member.

Can I earn status flying American basic economy?

Basic Economy fares will count towards earning status. You’ll earn American Airlines Loyalty points. 1 American Airlines mile equals 1 American Airlines Loyalty Point.

Unfortunately, it’ll be quite the job to earn status by flying just basic economy.

By looking at the status qualifications for American Airlines, you’d need to fly A LOT of miles in basic economy to earn any level of status.

American Airlines Loyalty Points Status 2022 Graphic

Can I redeem American Airlines miles for basic economy fares?

Right now, you aren’t able to redeem your American Airlines miles for basic economy fares. 

As U.S. airlines continue to expand their basic economy routes and offerings, I’d expect American Airlines to offer basic economy award redemptions in the future. 

The American Airlines web specials are the closest to basic economy award redemptions since you can’t make changes to the ticket.

Beyond that piece, it’s still a main cabin airfare. 

AA Basic Economy Final Thoughts

While basic economy isn’t for everyone, there are many opportunities to reduce the restrictions on American Airlines and make basic economy feel more like a standard economy experience all with an affordable price tag.

Holding an American Airlines credit card helps improve your basic economy experience by offering a checked bag and priority boarding. If you fly basic economy often enough, the savings could easily offset an American Airlines credit card annual fee.

As with basic economy on other carriers like Delta and United, be sure you understand the seating rules for families traveling with children under 15 years old on American Airlines is understanding the seating policy.

There’s comfort in knowing American Airlines will place children next to one of the adults they’re traveling with, as well as offers an option to pay for a seat assignment. 

Still, the key to being successful with AA basic economy is understanding the rules and restrictions that accompany the lower fares before you click purchase to make sure the entire experience goes smoothly.

Have you flown basic economy on American Airlines? How was your experience?

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