Beware bargain-hunters: American Airlines has become the last of the Big Three legacy carriers to unveil a new, cheap but highly restricted Basic Economy fare category.
Like the Basic Economy fare introduced recently by United Airlines, American’s will not allow purchasers to stow carry-on bags in the overhead bin; instead, carry on bags must fit under the seat (unless they are an AAdvantage elite or an AAdvantatge credit cardholder). Delta’s Basic Economy fares do not have similar restrictions on carry on baggage.
Passengers traveling on basic economy fares will be the very last group to board the plane (except for elites and AAdvantage cardholders), and will face more scrutiny regarding the size of their carry on bags. If they are too big to fit under the seat, basic economy passengers will be dinged for the standard checked bag fee ($25) plus a $25 penalty for gate checking the bag.
American said its Basic Economy fares will be the lowest available, but like those at United and Delta, they will come with very limited benefits. Purchasers will get the same in-flight service as regular Main Cabin customers, but they can’t select a seat (it will be assigned are check-in, although they can purchase one earlier); they will not be eligible for upgrades regardless of elite status; and will not be allowed same-day standby or flight changes. (Or as American put it, “Tickets are non-refundable, non-changeable. Use it or lose it.”)
Why are major carriers doing this? To head off competition from the likes of Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier, which offer rock bottom fares and sky high fees. AA President Robert Isom said the new fare category is for “those who want simple, low-price travel,” and he noted it will give American “the ability to compete more effectively with the growing number of ultra-low-cost carriers [ULCCs].”
Basic Economy customers only earn half of an Elite Qualifying Mile per mile flown, and only one half of an Elite Qualifying Segment per segment flown.
If customers are inclined to bite at the lowest available fare when searching for a flight, how will they know what they’re getting with Basic Economy?
“Multiple disclosures will spell out the attributes of a Basic Economy ticket at the time of purchase on aa.com, and when utilizing the airline’s reservations phone centers or when booking through a travel agent or online travel site,” the airline said. In addition, “Basic Economy customers will also receive reminders as their travel day gets closer, including at check-in kiosks at the airport.”
For a business traveler, a basic economy fare might work for a short haul day-trip, like San Francisco to Los Angeles or Dallas to Houston, but not much more than that. Most corporate travel managers and corporate travel agencies will not force these fares on business travelers.
American said the first Basic Economy fares will go on sale next month in 10 markets, and will be expanded to more markets later this year. It noted that the fares will not be offered on every AA flight, and that the number of Basic Economy seats on its flights will vary. (It’s likely that you’ll only see them in markets where AA competes with ULCCs.)
Soooo, what do you think about this new fare category? Will you be using it to save money? Please leave your comments below.
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