The 25 Routes Where You Want to Avoid Flying American Airlines

American Airlines started selling ‘basic economy’ fares three months ago.

These fares try to make the travel experience difficult enough that you’ll spend more for less restrictive tickets.

  • Last group to board, no full sized carry on allowed (“personal item only”).
  • No residual ticket value for changes, no same day changes or standby, use it or lose it.
  • Seat assignments at check-in or for an extra charge 48 hours before travel.
  • No upgrades.
  • 100% of redeemable miles and elite qualifying dollars (which are earned based on fare), but only 50% elite qualifying miles and 50% elite qualifying segments.
  • No re-accommodation on other airlines if your flight goes mechanical, and bottom of the list for automatic re-accommodation on other American flights.

These fares were initially launched in 10 markets:

Now American has expanded the routes where they sell the cheapest fares as Basic Economy. (HT: JT Genter)

Basic Economy fares are not less expensive fares. They are fares that give you less for what you used to pay.

Here are the 25 routes that are now infected by Basic Economy:

American Airlines is intentionally making the travel experience worse, in hopes you will spend more to avoid the pain points.

In other words they don’t really want you to book these fares. The risk to American, though, is that you may not book these fares — and might book your travel on another airline that’s less restrictive like Southwest Airlines or jetBlue, even Alaska Airlines and to a certain extent Delta (but not United).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. For the first time ever I just booked LAX-MDW on SWA instead of flying AA or UA to O’Hare. I would never have given that any consideration in the past. I also booked 5 other employees on the same flight. I have status on both AA & UA but still decided to make the change. When I fly with my employees I never upgrade to first I always stay in economy with them and I’m fed up with the horrible slim line seats on UA & AA. I felt SWA would actually be more comfortable. These bozos that run AA & UA are turning their airlines into Spirit and I won’t be coming along for the ride.

  2. I mean, we all know the Dougie only knows how to run a cut rate airline, not a real one. Why did anyone ever pretend he could? He’s going to run it down to a level that he can comfortably manage.

  3. FWIW, I posted yesterday on Basic Economy fares between SFO and LAX, but not from LAX to SFO. Today, I can’t find them coming out of SFO either…

  4. Meh.

    This all much ado about nothing.

    I won’t buy them. But some people will. And yes they are “less expensive fares.” The fact that they are not less expensive that what AA was previously offering on those routes is irrelevant. These fares are less expensive than the other fares AA is selling on those routes. The customer doesn’t get to set pricing – the airlines do.

    Book away is you want, but this incessant whining about “things aren’t the way they used to be” is not very interesting.

  5. These basic economy fares are just going to create more confrontations between passengers and airline employees. People won’t have seat assignments meaning they are subject to be being bumped if the flights are overbooked. They will also be the last to be rebooked on other flights if that happens. The flight crew is also being asked to become a police force to make sure these people don’t put anything in the overhead bins. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Airlines should be required to assign seats when people make reservations. The only seats that maybe should be left unassigned are the first row for elderly or handicapped people. It’s just one big recipe for flight chaos. Why go through this when you can pay an extra $15 on SWA and they check you in in advance and give you free checked bags. If the fares are about the same you have to be an idiot to choose AA or UA for these cheap fares.

  6. I’m surprised ORD-FLL isn’t on here. United is going hard on this route with its basic economy fares.

  7. What does ramsomware and basic economy has in common?
    They force you to pay extra to retrieve things you have had (by first taking them away).

  8. Yeah except WN, AS and B6 don’t fly all of those routes. And if BE keeps expanding, B6, AS and WN don’t fly anywhere near AA/UA/DL’s overall network.

  9. Genuinely confused here…the list of 25 routes…are those one-way flights only? So a different plane or set-up is used for the return leg?

    For instance Baltimore BWI to DFW. But on the DFW list, Baltimore doesn’t appear. So does that mean ONLY BWI-DFW has basic economy but DFW-BWI doesn’t? Same goes for Amarillo AMA and BWI. Baltimore is listed under Amarillo, but Amarillo isn’t listed under Baltimore.

  10. Gary, I hope you’re letting Alaska know in every possible that all sorts of former American loyalists will gladly jump ship with a status match.

  11. Just one more reason in a long list of reasons why this former decade and then some EXP isn’t flying AA any more.

    Bob, customers do set the prices when they decide to turn down what the airline is selling at any price.

  12. These fares were created for the most frugal people that fly frontier and spirit airlines. Those airlines offer the most bare bones fares that make you even pay for a carry on bag. American still offers regular economy on those flights, but has a limited number of seats offered at basic economy. When the nation as a whole is cheap and wants the cheapest fares, all airlines have to adapt. United and Delta do the same thing. Stop making it seem like it’s just american and the whole flight is sold at this cheap fare.

  13. Great post. Hopefully over the next year enough business will switch over to WN, JB, and AS that the big three will LISTEN

  14. Looks like PHL is turning into the Basic Economy hub for AA…Ugh

    As a PHL based AA Gold I’d like to see positive things like better aircraft/increased destinations and less of this basic economy crap…

  15. The point is that Spirit and Frontier give you bare bones service at a bare bones price. Some people want that. AA is offering bare bones service at a much higher price. Nobody wants that. They think we are too stupid to know the difference.

  16. Reading the criteria 2x, it sounds like the typical experience for those flying coach (like I do).
    I have been reaccomodated on another airline a few times.
    A couple of ?’s:
    Can you gate check full size items?
    If you miss your flight, will they rebook you?

    Seat assignments at the gate is okay. A little disappointing if traveling as a family infrequently and you learn that “rule” at the airport. Five family members scattered around the plane because AA wants to make an extra $100 sounds kind of un-American ( pardon the pun). Is there a cut off age for children sitting seperately from parents or siblings? If not, I am sure the flight attendants will tend to their needs…or throw them off the plane. Either way, the plane leaves on time and the remaining passengers are happy.
    Nobody is going to care about the other Economy class restrictions. So what if you don’t get prioritzed for automatic reaccomodation on another AA flight…so you have to call or see a gate agent instead if you don’t get a workable alternate. I would bet that at the airport, the ticket and gate agents will try to get the best alternate flight that they can, and that seat availability is more of a constraint than the new rules.
    The funniest rule is last to board. Shouldn’t that be a benefit? You have one personal item to load, and everyone has to wait for you to sit down before they can leave. And, back to the family scenario… assume single parent, family of five having to sit in five seats scattered about, and they are last to board. Assume the single parent is not the primary caretaker (i.e. the stereotypical non-primary caretaker father). What did the plane loading simulator show the probability for on time departure is? I am sure that happens on Spirit enough that the simulation has been validated. But Spirit or Allegiant or Frontier flies like 5 days a week, right. They get two extra days of cushion in some markets.
    I am not sure AA can effectively provide less service without it costing them more to do it. They will end up charging less for the exact same non-assigned seat. Priceline may be the big loser here.

  17. Disgustingly, Philly doesn’t even get a heading on the list. Most of the routes are where Spirit or Frontier is the only nonstop competition. PHL-FLL also has JetBlue, and there’s a Southwest flight from PHL to DAL (not DFW), but in the rest AA has a defacto monopoly.

    This is where Southwest and Jetblue need to seize the opportunity and fight AA on those routes. Alaska is already doing their part by bringing more transcon routes to PHL.

  18. @Gary . . . @HockeyCoachBen —> Correct me if I’m wrong, Gary, but I think Ben is mistaken here when he wrote “So a different plane or set-up is used for the return leg?”

    If *I* understand things correctly, the plane is the plane is the plane. And if you buy a “regular” Economy seat, you can check a bag (for an extra fee, of course), use the overhead bin space (if there’s rom, of course), and choose any seat on the plane (in the Economy section, of course). And if you happen to select a seat in one of the rows with only 29″ of pitch rather than 30″ — say it’s the only aisle seat left available, well you paid for “regular” Economy but simply got shorted an extra inch.

    OTOH, if and when AA ***chooses*** to offer BASIC Economy on a flight, all the changes to the fare are already there: they won’t let you check a bag, pick a seat in advance, etc., etc., etc. You *might* get a seat with 29″ of pitch, or you might strike Gold and get a middle seat with 30 glorious inches! (“Let’s spin the big wheel and see what number we land on today, Dave…”)

    In other words, there’s no difference in the hard product.

  19. If you don’t like Basic Economy, then don’t buy it. It is not taking anything away from you. Airfare prices are in constant flux, as you well know Gary. It is wrong and misleading to say that the BE fares are exactly what the coach fares used to be. The fact is, it is always a cheaper option than coach for those who don’t care about certain features.

  20. @BJ Clinton sorry but your comment is pretty misleading. Basic Economy fares are generally same as the lowest fares the day before Basic Economy began in the market. They aren’t lower than competitor lowest fares in the market. AND AMERICAN WAS CLEAR THAT THEY ARE NOT MEANT TO BE LOWER, they “aren’t new lower fares” according to the airline, they offer ‘new attributes’ for the lowest fares (i.e. more restrictive, offer less at the same price point). That’s STRAIGHT FROM THE AIRLINE and matches the facts.

  21. @BJClinton —> YMMV, but in *my* experience in checking out the fares, Basic Economy fares are the same as, or just slightly lower that what “regular” Economy fares were the day before BE fares were introduced.

  22. I only ever fly AA if my schedule requires it…this makes tougher schedules look even better now.

  23. I don’t see what all the BS griping is about….. If you don’t like American, United, Delta pick Another Airline and STFU! They are public corporations and answer to Their Shareholders Not You. You like JB….. Go Fly Them, Period. the Whinning never stops………

  24. Wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, Reese? Now I happen to agree that “If you don’t like American, United, Delta,” you should fly a different airline. I don’t; and I do. But if you don’t see what all the griping is about, then you clearly have missed something.

    It’s only sort of true that public corporation answer to their shareholders. It’s one of those things that sounds good, but in truth isn’t as simple as all that. Few shareholders, after all, take the time to study the issues, the annual report(s), actually go to board- and/or the annual stockholders’ meetings — they just ignore it all, letting their broker handle their investment(s), and let the board-approved proxy exercise their votes. In reality, corporations don’t answer to shareholders so much as they answer to the banks to which they owe money, and to Wall Street itself.

    And if, for years, I have been charging you $5 for a hot dog and a Coke at the ballgame, and suddenly announce a “Basic Dog & Drink,” you may think I’m giving my customers a cheaper alternative. But it’s a hot dog and tap water, and you aren’t entitled to a bun, mustard, ketchup, onions, relish, or any condiments whatsoever — but it’s $5 . . . and I now charge $10 for the same hot dog and a Coke you got last season — well, I suspect you might be a wee bit upset. Of course, if you don’t like baseball, you’re free to attend the home games of a different sport . . . oh. wait. your town has no other sports teams. Oh well . . .

    YMMV, of course.

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