You are currently viewing American Airlines Economy vs Basic : Which Is Better For Travelers?

American Airlines Economy vs Basic : Which Is Better For Travelers?

Many decisions that run through your mind as soon as you decide to take a trip. Where do you want to go? For how long will you be traveling? How will you get there – car, bus, train, or plane? 

When you decide to fly, there are a new host of questions that come to mind. Do you want to save money on the flight and spend more at your destination? Is your flying comfort – and the amenities you receive – worth spending the extra money on a more expensive ticket?

If you’re an average flyer without a bank of saved miles, the fare choice probably isn’t usually between Economy and First Class. Rather, your considerations are more likely between Economy and Basic Economy. 

Main Fare Differences

The main differences between the fares are the ability to:

  • Purchase seat and section upgrades
  • Seat selection
  • Earn Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs), and Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs)

The fares themselves can sometimes be as little difference at $20 to $50 – at which price point it may be worth paying the extra fare and receiving the above perks. Fares can also be as different as a few hundred dollars, so you will really need to decide what is most important to you.

Let’s explore the intricacies of each fare so that you can make a better, more informed decision.

Economy Fare

American Airlines calls its Economy seat category Main Cabin. A Main Cabin ticket includes your seat and everything you need to enjoy your flight. 

A Main Cabin fare allows you to choose your seat for free when you book your flight. You can also buy Preferred Economy or Main Cabin seats that provide more benefits.

WiFi is available for purchase to keep you connected while you travel. Snacks and soft drinks are complimentary and additional food and drinks may be available, depending on your route. You can also relax with free entertainment – movies and television shows – on screen or on your personal device.

Main Cabin Baggage and Boarding

Route To/From Seat Selection Bags Boarding Group
USA, Canada, Central America, Mexico, Caribbean, Guyana, and Suriname At booking Checked: 0 Free

 

Carry-on: 1 personal and 1 carry-on

Group 9
Europe At booking Checked: 0 Free

 

Carry-on: 1 personal and 1 carry-on

Group 8
South America At booking Checked: 0 Free

 

Carry-on: 1 personal and 1 carry-on

Group 8
Israel At booking Checked: 1 Free

 

Carry-on: 1 personal and 1 carry-on

Group 8
India, China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand At booking Checked: 1 Free 

 

Carry-on: 1 personal and 1 carry-on

Group 8

 There are two additional fare categories within Economy or Main Cabin as it is called by American Airlines:

  • Main Cabin Extra: You will enjoy more legroom in the Main Cabin and early boarding.
  • Premium Economy: You will enjoy more space and amenities on certain long-distance international, Alaska, and Hawaii flights. Seats are located behind Flagship, Business, or First Class.
    • Faster check-in and boarding as well as getting your checked bags first.
    • Wider, adjustable leather seats, extendable foot and headrests, and more legroom.
    • A chef-inspired meal with free beer, wine, and spirits.
    • Complimentary, personal on-demand entertainment with larger monitors
    • Every seat includes USB ports and power outlets.
    • Travel essentials amenity kit.
    • Casper sleep set including a pillow and blanket.

Main Cabin Baggage Fees

While American Airlines does allow you to bring one carry-on item for the overhead bin for free, note that you will be boarding with Groups 8 or 9 and there may be no space available. You will then have to gate-check your bags which will not incur a fee, but you will have to retrieve your bag after the flight at Baggage Claim.

Main Cabin Boarding

Priority Access can be purchased for a regular Economy ticket. All elite levels will board with their groups: 

  • Executive Platinum in Group 1
  • Platinum Pro in Group 2
  • Platinum in Group 3
  • Gold in Group 4
  • AAdvantage credit cardholders in Group 5, after all elites

Main Cabin Seat Selection

While the physical seats available to Main Cabin and Basic Economy fares are the same, Main Cabin fares allow you to choose your seat and allow you to upgrade your seat to Main Cabin Extra and Priority designations. 

Main Cabin: Earning Elite Qualifying Miles, Dollars, and Segments

Main Cabin, or Economy, tickets earn the entire amount of Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs), and Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs). To obtain elite status, you need to fly on a full Main Cabin fare.

Basic Economy Fare

What is Basic Economy?

Basic Economy is American Airlines’ lowest price. Some restrictions apply, but you will still have a comfortable seat in the Main Cabin and you will still receive complimentary snacks, soft drinks, and inflight entertainment.

The Basic Economy fare was introduced to combat low-cost carriers. Charging fees for options like seat assignments, checked bags, and upgrades allow travelers to customize their low-cost fare. Let’s explore some of the restrictions and differences between Main Cabin and Basic Economy fares. 

Basic Economy Baggage and Boarding

A notable difference between Economy and Basic Economy on American Airlines is the baggage that you can bring with you for free. Most routes will incur charges for checking bags. 

Carry-on items must fit in the overhead bin and personal items must fit under the seat in front of you. All other items must be checked at the ticket counter.

Route To/From Seat Selection Bags Boarding Group
USA, Canada, Central America, Mexico, Caribbean, Guyana, and Suriname Automatically assigned or pay a fee to choose seat Checked: 0 Free

 

Carry-on: 1 personal and 1 carry-on

Group 9
Europe Automatically assigned or pay a fee to choose seat Checked: 0 Free

 

Carry-on: 1 personal and 1 carry-on

Group 8
South America Automatically assigned or pay a fee to choose seat Checked: 0 Free

 

Carry-on: 1 personal and 1 carry-on

Group 8
Israel Automatically assigned or pay a fee to choose seat Checked: 1 Free

 

Carry-on: 1 personal and 1 carry-on

Group 8
India, China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand Automatically assigned or pay a fee to choose seat Checked: 1 Free 

 

Carry-on: 1 personal and 1 carry-on

Group 8

Basic Economy Baggage Fees

Similar to Economy fares, American Airlines allows you to bring one carry-on item for the overhead bin for free. Note that you will be boarding with Groups 8 or 9 and there may be no space available in the overhead bin. You will then have to gate-check your bags which will not incur a fee, but you will have to retrieve your bag after the flight at Baggage Claim.

Basic Economy Boarding

Basic Economy fares are not eligible to upgrade to Priority Access, even if you are willing to pay a fee for it separately. Basic Economy ticket holders will board with Group 9, the very last group to board the aircraft. The only exception to this rule is AAdvantage elite members, who can still upgrade to Priority Access and who will board with their respective groups:

  • Executive Platinum in Group 1
  • Platinum Pro in Group 2
  • Platinum in Group 3
  • Gold in Group 4
  • AAdvantage credit cardholders in Group 5, after all elites

Seat Selection

AAdvantage Elite members can choose their seats for free at any time, otherwise, seats will automatically be assigned at check-in for free. There are no guarantees that you will be seated with your traveling companions, though they do try to assign you seats as close as possible.

Basic Economy ticket holders do not have access to upgrades such as Main Cabin Extra or Priority seating, even for a fee. Waiting for automatic seat assignment often means that you will be assigned to the less desirable seats on a plane – such as the middle seat in a back row. For long flights, this could be quite uncomfortable. 

Basic Economy: Earning Elite Qualifying Miles, Dollars, and Segments

Basic Economy does not earn Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs), nor Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

Question: What is the difference between Basic Economy and Economy on American Airlines?

Answer: According to American Airlines, “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.”

Question: Does American Airlines Basic Economy Allow Carry-on?

Answer: According to American Airlines, “Customers flying Basic Economy are now allowed 1 free carry-on (in addition to a personal item) to all destinations.”

Question: Can you upgrade from Basic Economy to Main Cabin on American Airlines?

Answer: According to American Airlines, “Basic Economy fares now come with the ability to tailor your travel experience including upgrades, Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats, priority boarding and same-day flight changes. Same AAdvantage® benefits during your journey, no matter the fare.”

Conclusion: Main Cabin (Economy) or Basic Economy?

If you are truly price-conscious and don’t care about perks and amenities, then choose Basic Economy. If you want the ability to upgrade to Priority or Main Cabin Extra, then purchase a Main Cabin fare. Nobody will know what fare class you purchased as the seats are exactly the same. Both seats will get you to your destination at the same time, you need to decide if the perks and amenities are worth the extra price. In my opinion, I like to choose my seat ahead of time and try to make my trip as comfortable as possible, so I would choose the Main Cabin fare. 

Tammy Wunsch

Tammy Wunsch loves wine, vineyards, and travel. Her blog, ExpatWriter.com, prominently features these three topics, as well as information about living the digital nomad life. Tammy is the author of "The Navarre Brotherhood," an adventure novel about a search for the Knights Templar treasure. She lives in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut and spends her free time working on a sequel, planning her next trip, and seeking out new wines to share with friends