UH OH: American Airlines Customers Are Getting Stuck in Basic Economy Even When They Buy More Expensive Tickets

I’ve now heard from readers, seen in my Facebook feed, and read a Flyertalk thread all reporting the same problem with American Airlines Basic Economy: agents are rebooking customers who did not buy Basic Economy tickets into Basic Economy fares when changing their flights as a result of cancellations, such as because of the bad weather going on in the Northeast right now.

Here’s the experience of PDBDrinker,

When I got re-booked for the [Dallas – New York JFK] flight, the agent on the phone said she couldn’t assign me a seat or add me to the upgrade list because “the computer was acting weird.” Fast forward to the airport a couple hours later, I couldn’t select a seat or add myself to the upgrade list via kiosk. Kiosk spits out boarding pass with the booking code “B”…basic economy.

I go to the Admirals Club to try to be put on the upgrade list, but they tell me they can’t do it because I’m in B and there is no way to revert me back to my original booking code. They say they’ve never seen this before and were at a loss. They send me on my way, SOL, nothing they can do because the computer won’t let them.

American Airlines is now selling basic economy fares but they supposedly aren’t even selling those fares between Dallas and New York.

Another similar experience was reported by someone flying Boston to Miami and onward to Costa Rica. When their flight to Miami cancelled they got rebooked Boston to New York LaGuardia to Miami because it’s all that was available. And they were rebooked into Basic Economy.

  • American isn’t selling Basic Economy on international routes
  • They aren’t selling Basic Economy Boston to Miami, or Boston to New York, or New York to Miami
  • They say they aren’t selling Basic Economy on connecting itineraries

And yet this person couldn’t get an advance seat assignment for free and received a boarding pass indicating boarding group 9 (basic economy) and that they weren’t able to bring a full sized carry-on bag on the plane.

There should not be ‘B’ inventory on non-Basic Economy routes. Agents should not be able to rebook customers who did not buy Basic Economy, and click the acknowledgement that they were opting for self-immolation for a miserable travel experience, into Basic Economy.

We know that it’s possible to be moved out of Basic Economy even after you’ve opted to purchase a Basic Economy fare. So agents can fix this.

Things get a little more complicated when you’re booked into Basic Economy on a sold out flight, you need an agent who understands how to temporarily oversell the flight in a higher booking class and then cancel out the B space.

It turns out that American’s implementation of Basic Economy wasn’t ready for prime time if they’re sticking it to customers who didn’t even buy basic economy and agree to its restrictions, and then having agents who throw up their hands unable to help (like a result of training agents in key strokes with a graphical interface, but not giving them the tools to understand the systems they’re working in).

Update: An American spokesperson shares how they’re addressing this:

We apologize to the customers who have been affected. To make sure this situation doesn’t happen again, we have closed B inventory on non-Basic Economy routes to prevent accidental re-booking in this fare class. Also, we will follow up on previous internal communications with new reminders that only customers who purchased Basic Economy should be re-accommodated on B tickets, to make sure that customers are rebooked in the appropriate class of service.

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. “They send me on my way, SOL, nothing they can do because the computer won’t let them.”

    That’s one of the most infuriating things about this merger. It was announced a while back that USdbaAA would change over all frontline/phone agents from native Sabre to the QIK overlay sometime in Q1 2017, and that’s essentially having a “computer says no” effect on customer service.

    Adding an overlay removes any freedom an agent might have in executing a nonstandard process. It physically limits the requests an agents can action to requests that the overlay supports, essentially giving management total and final control over each and every request. It also engenders laziness, because agents don’t actually have to understand the commands that they’re inputting (a la Sabre). Rather, all they have to do is tab around a form.

  2. Wow, add insult to injury. Flight cancellation and being bumped only to not have seat assignment, not have priority boarding, not be able to have carry on.

  3. Seems like this could lead to DOT complaint:
    For both domestic and international markets, carriers must provide disclosure of the full price to be paid, including government taxes/fees as well as carrier surcharges, in their advertising, on their websites and on the passenger’s e-ticket confirmation. In addition, carriers must disclose all fees for optional services through a prominent link on their homepage, and must include information on e-ticket confirmations about the free baggage allowance and applicable fees for the first and second checked bag and carry-on.


    I was travelling on Business class transcon and I missed the connection, AA agent rebooked me on the next flight (9 hours later), and gave me crappy seats in coach, but thats okay I was tired. She said that since I was travelling originally in First Class they would upgrade me instantly if someone didnt showed up. Fast forward 9 hours later there were about 3 empty seats in First class and they upgraded some other people, I was not even in the upgrade list. I am boarding the plane and at the gate my ticket gave and error, so they went to check and I did not have assigned seats even though my ticket had assigned seats, I boarded LAST, I had to check my carry on, I had to sit separate from my wife and I took the last seat of the plane. It was horrible…… The agents had no idea what happened and the computer was acting weird and they could do anything.

  5. I’m done with my EXP AA status and am offficially moving to Delta. Better food, lounges, airline service …. what else do you need to get convinced at this point.

  6. hahaha hohoho heeheehee I’m laughing at this. AA has been laughable for some time now and this is just more icing heaped on top of a leaning, collapsing cake. How quickly will their elite rolls slide?

  7. Hopefully everyone who was defrauded by AA will pursue compensation and file DOT complaints. This is absolutely unacceptable. AA needs to yank the fares if it cannot properly administer them.

  8. Gary wants pax booked in full Y so they can earn additional miles and privileges they didn’t pay for and aren’t entitled to. You’ve even gloated and in the past but were upset DL rebooked you in award invetory in business SYD-LAX after you missed a flight on VA. They didn’t even have to do that, and possibly lost a full revenue sale flying your stingy award reservation back. I’m sure this will be addressed by RM and airport management personnel. Impacted passengers will contact customer relations for follow-up.

    If you hate AA so much go back to flying UA, oh wait you don’t want to because their FFP is less lucrative. You’ve only been flying AA with any regularity for a few years now, before you hardly ever flew AA yet bragged you had LT Plat 2MM.

  9. AA states that during IROPS that re ticketed into “Lowest available inventory in the
    same cabin as ticketed.” Thats just poor customer service to move them in B fare.

  10. Douglas Parker, meet TrumpCare. Notice how the craven ideologues don’t seem to even comprehend the massive dislocation of average people, just the cost savings. Sound familiar?

    Savor that mint, Creosote!

  11. @Josh G – “Gary wants pax booked in full Y so they can earn additional miles and privileges they didn’t pay for” no I want passengers not to be booked in a class of service that they chose to pay more for to avoid, or that isn’t even intended to be offered on the route they’re flying.

  12. Spirit has it’s own set of problems but at least their agents will always sell you a Big Seat Up Front if it’s open ($50-75) which is not bad value for 5hr trans-con flights. No waiting to trust a computer for a hard-earned upgrade but then seeing 5 flight attendants in uniform get pulled up to First. Happened right before my eyes since I was in the row behind them for rest of the flight watching them excitedly eat dinner.
    #1/1 on the upgrade list for several hours with 5 open seats and missed the battlefield upgrade with hushed whispers (typically they congratulate the person and thank them for their loyalty when pulling up to First). I don’t trust airline computers for my upgrades anymore.

  13. Easy way to fix this……..eliminate Basic Economy.

    If I want a cheap hamburger, I don’t go to Ruth’s Chris and ask for the 99-cent whopper. I go to a fast-food restaurant.

    If I want to fly cheap, I’ll fly an airline that knows how to deliver a value-priced product.

    American, pick one strategy and strive to do that well. Companies that try to be all things to all people don’t last very long.

  14. If this happens to me, I’ll fly Southwest. At least you know what you are getting upfront!
    I haven’t had an upgrade since the merger, too many elites now.
    Also sick of the herd mentality when they announce “boarding 1st class now”, everyone and their
    brother inches towards the gate and then get pissed when you try to get by.
    Line for ExPlat, Plat and Gold are half the plane!

  15. With the devaluation of ExPlat now that CK is a published tier, AA is also faltering badly on the ops side. I know this is a little off-topic, but bear with me as I explain these events that personally happened to me since Jan. 1 of this year, and illustrate from my own perspective the rapid implosion of AA:
    – 1/10 AA 1286 DFW-OMA mechanical / equipment issue; late departure; missed meeting
    – 1/24 AA 5922 GDL-DFW; AA cancelled flight for unexplained reasons; rebooked on next day flight. left me hanging; no way to reach AA since 1-800 ExPlat number isn’t reachable from MX, and couldn’t access local 800 number in MX on my mobile phone. My travel agent bailed me out on United GDL-IAH-DFW
    – 1/26 AA 327 DCA-DFW; IFE inoperable
    – 2/9 AA 1382 DFW- IND mechanical delay/ equipment issue. ExPlat line min had 16 minutes delay to reach an agent for rebooking. Arrived very late and missed afternoon appointment
    – 3/11 AA#103 DFW-SJC; delayed baggage. There were at least 15 people in line for same issue. Incredible since mine was originating/terminating flight and had no connection. called ExPlat line; was referred to baggage services and line kept disconnecting. Finally called back and told ExPlat rep to handle it herself and call me back, which she did. A ton of aggravation.

    I am a seasoned traveler: +3MM on AA , plus 1 MM on other airlines, since 1986. Mostly BIS miles. It ain’t my first rodeo. American is off the rails by even today’s abysmal air service standards. The sad reality is AA doesn’t care. One ExPlat desk rep told me point blank is is “all about the money” . It is easier and cheaper to let an ExPlat walk rather than fix the problem. After all, what is one customer among millions?

  16. Definitely legal action is needed. This isn’t just bad business, it’s fraud. There had better be some serious compensation here.

  17. I can hear Aa’s response, if they care at all: “we have to re-book you for xyz reason. Do you want to get there now in a basic economy seat or do you want to wait and sit in a “regular” seat?” If TSA is even smart enough to hand you a pre-check pass when they tell you you can go through the pre-check lane without having to undress, then aa ought to be equally as smart and at least let you carry-on your bag if you choose to take the basic seat. But, if I’d paid for a first class ticket and got put in basic, I’d be asking for some cash back and not any funny money!

  18. Sounds like UA Customer Service strategy. Make it impossible for agents to change anything in their computers. Agents then blame computers. UA gets their $25 bag fee or their $60 premium economy seat or fill in the blank… Customer gives up and pays anyway. UA gets their $$$ and customer gets angry.

    If you want to become the nations preeminent airline all they need to do is hire Disney or Apple’s CEO and let them do their thing.

    No wonder America hates flying.

  19. So so glad that I stopped flying AA last summer. I got what seems like the 10th email this morning urging me to buy back my status. I’ve been deleting these so I cannot verify but with Platinum status now down to $1,199 it seems like the price keeps going down, does anyone know?

  20. @T – You said “Adding an overlay removes any freedom an agent might have in executing a nonstandard process. It physically limits the requests an agents can action to requests that the overlay supports, essentially giving management total and final control over each and every request.”

    You just described the exact reasons QIK exists. Plus the added benefit of lower training costs because, as you also stated: “agents don’t actually have to understand the commands that they’re inputting (a la Sabre). Rather, all they have to do is tab around a form.”

    And I agree with your post completely – just presenting management’s viewpoint here.

  21. @John Everyone kept their doctor. Find someone who didn’t.

    How about your fellow fat orange baboon’s promise that no one would lose their health care? GOP OMB says 24 mil lose it, Cheeto’s own Budget ofc says 26 million. Has there ever been a bigger liar in American history? And this affects the most vulnerable people, like the black lung victims in WVA who vote GOP yet got health care for the first time from the hated Kenyan, voted for Trump, now will die.

    When you make snarky political comments do you even take into account the millions who will DIE because of hideous monsters like you? Do you think decent people are not going to eventually do something about you? You’re never more than 30%, just fatter.

  22. Greg with all due respect the analogy was both humorous appropriate and did not require an extended political debate about obamacare. But since you’ve opened the door, I personally know several individuals who lost their doctor and their policy because the bureaucrats in DC decided it was “subpar.” These “subpar” policies were replaced by inferior policies which provide almost no coverage and cost twice as much. This happened to a few million people per government data. As for the Obamacare repeal, that has yet to be enacted. And unlike Pelosi’s and Reid’s midnight special “you have to pass it so you can know what’s in it” the various GOP proposals have received extensive publicity and debate. If American people don’t like it they can vote their reps out in 2018 and re-enact Obamacare. I very much doubt that will happen because most people don’t want it.

  23. “most people don’t want it.”

    No, most people want healthcare. Period. You can debate 22 million losing their insurance, or 26 million losing their insurance. Either way- it’s a tax break to the wealthy paid for by the sick and poor.

  24. Seems like a run-of-the-mill computer/employee training mistake. They are quickly addressing the problem, and compensating the folks affected. It does not seem like sufficient grounds “to never fly AA again.” 🙂

  25. @JoshG
    it seems AA unleashed you, the attack chihuahua again to defend the worst airline in existence
    go upgrade yourself to F…..

  26. Hey, Boraxo, do you ever read and think for yourself?

    President Obama was caught in a misstatement that led to everyone on your side yelling, “LIE LIE LIE!!!” (aside–funny how even though Rump lies with impunity nobody’s yelling that on your side). The President assumed that since the only differences between the old policies and the new imposed standards were very minor, that the insurance companies would just change the policies to match. But funny thing, instead the companies took the opportunity to dramatically alter the policies (including different allowed doctors) so people under them would have to pay MORE, adding to insurance companies’ profits at your expense.

    But did you get mad at your insurance company? Nope. You were told to hate President Obama and call him a LIAR.

    All because you cannot read nor think for yourself.

    Which is why you also voted for a bigger liar that’s negatively affecting your life and finances.


  27. In order “To make sure this situation doesn’t happen again”, AA will probably just add a line to the CoC authorizing them to do it…

  28. @Another Steve — I got an invitation to upgrade to PLT, which had just expired end February (previous emails had urged me to renew). The $1479 figure was the same as earlier “invitations”. I wonder why your dollar offer was less? Ah well, unimportant, as I spent last year auditioning UA and DL. The majors are in a race to the bottom but AA seems the clumsiest. DL has its drawbacks but the in-flight experience so far has been better. I have LT Gold in case I have to fly them…

  29. I’d never willingly go into Basic, but are they putting AA awards for Super Savers into Basic?

  30. @T
    1, Native (command-driven) Sabre is still available, and will be for some time, to make sure agents can switch back if needed due to not knowing how to do something in QIK
    2, QIK is not designed by management – it is an overlay used for SABRE & SHARES designed by a third-party company,, and sold to airlines to use with the GDS. You make it sound like Parker et al are sitting there saying “let’s design this system to eliminate functionality”.

    Yes, it’s a tool to reduce training time but also lower error rates. Years ago at UAL we went from native Apollo to FastAir – a proprietary graphic overlay. Transaction times lowered by something like two thirds. Training went from three weeks to two for new hires. Mistakes went down. Agents were able to look up at a passenger instead of entering thousands of keys a la a Saturday Night Live skit. It’s the same deal with QIK SABRE. There are ways to work around just about everything, if the agent wants to. There is not some hidden meaning in making an agent’s job easier, so no conspiracy theories are needed. If anything, we’re in an empowerment era in this industry; at least more so than it was during the recession/bankruptcy years. Mgmt wants to avoid situations were pax are truly screwed over. It is all about “repurchase intent”

    Not rebooking a pax into the B booking code requires agents to remember not to do so… along with hundreds/thousands of other rules and regulations.. and as with everything new, mistakes will be made. Not that it’s OK, but that is life.

  31. Only in America can several idiots turn a simple discussion about horrible airline policies into a political argument. How, why?

    You voted who you voted for – guess what, you can do it all over again in a few years. Deal with the results because, in the end, we can’t change a damn thing.

    Here is something all of you need to know – politicians lie, ALL OF THEM. That will NEVER change. In every election one side does not get duped, EVERYONE does because of lies. There are no winners.

    Just like with AA we few DON’T MATTER and the course of their financial history is NOT going to change because we bitch or stop using them. AA does not give a sht about losing one or even a thousand customers when they have millions to play with. Sound familiar – one vote among millions… We are in fact too small.

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