American Wants $371 Extra for a (Middle) Seat Assignment. And That’s Just Dumb.

American Airlines rolled out Basic Economy fares this year. You don’t get a seat assignment in advance. And unless you’re an elite frequent flyer or co-brand credit card holder you don’t get to bring a full-sized carry on onboard, either. Elite’s can’t get extra legroom seats, and they can’t upgrade.

The idea is to make travel unpleasant enough that most customers will spend more to avoid the restrictions. That works sometimes when it’s $20 more, although some customers may ditch American for Southwest, JetBlue, or Alaska where there aren’t these sort of restrictions. That’s especially true where a family sitting together matters and American loses not just one sale but four or five.

Basic Economy fares are a price increase, albeit one that makes the air travel experience more complicated and more difficult to navigate through.

And sometimes they get greedy and probably really shoot themselves in the foot in the process, like when they want an extra $371 one way per person to avoid these new restrictions.

After paying an extra $371 extra the only seats you can have are middle seats unless you want to pay extra again.

I don’t know about you, but I’d just take a connecting flight on Southwest. Better yet, take Spirit Airlines non-stop and buy up to ‘the Big Front Seat’ and save a couple hundred bucks compared to that American Airlines middle.

American Airlines wants to maintain price, while competing for the most price sensitive travelers. So they offer a cheap Spirit-like price with Spirit-like restrictions (but without the option to upgrade to a domestic first class style seat for tens of dollars more) along with a more traditional price.

The problem is that it doesn’t work. They destroy their brand (maybe they’ve already done that). They anger customers. And they chase them away. And at the end of the day what do they have? Unhappy people paying Spirit Airlines prices.

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, 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. Agreed, done with American after I use my SWUs. Your article last week where even employees said that management is not making decisions in the best interest of its’ customers.

  2. There is absolutely no way in hell, short of an actual family emergency, that I would ever pay that. $100 and maybe I’d think about it over a connecting flight. You’d think they’d have some automated process that looks for absurd pricing differentials (i.e, review all where main > 2x basic) for further review. But of course this industry will never lose money again so everything I say should be disregarded.

  3. I think I can answer this question – you didn’t post the dates these are available, but a quick perusal of Google Flights shows the only fares like this for that flight are Dec 11 or 15 – less than 21 days from now. The Basic Economy flights will likely not show up in Concur searches (when companies have Basic Econ set to not show), so they will only see (and book) the Main Cabin price.

    The Basic price is for vacationers, the Main Cabin price is for business travelers.

  4. Hey, these tricks worked on stupid, uneducated, ignorant voters in last year’s election.

    Can’t blame american for using the same tactics, given that these imbeciles account nowadays for slightly less than 50% of the adult population in this country.

  5. @sadstate I don’t know what those stupid, educated voters were thinking. Surely no one actually wants secure borders, the tax code fixed, rationalized trade deals, our allies paying their their fair share and health care that does not cost 19% of GDP. MAGA

  6. Any stats on how often this is a fare increase or not? What does a B6 or WN seat cost on this route? If that flight is coming up soon, you might up getting a window or aisle on the basic fare.

    I agree that this is a terrible idea for the legacy carriers. Really does ruin the brands and really will hurt them to the benefit of the airlines that don’t.

    Just curious how the pricing has actually worked.

  7. This is redeye from LAS-PHL (not sure why that info was omitted as it provides context). So not a particularly attractive flight to anyone except bargain seekers who are willing to sacrifice comfort and sleep to save $$ on their Vegas junket. The $99 BE fare works exactly as intended competing with Spirit and should fill the E- section.

    Now why get excited about the $371 fare? Legacy carrier often post gouge prices hoping to land a sucker or two, and then lower fares to more rational levels as ETA approaches and seats remain. Nobody rational is going to buy this fare – as Gary notes they will more likely go with the competition. So no big deal. The fact that AA’s BE pricing engine displays lame disparities (as UA has done for months) just shows the ineptitude of the IT department.

  8. Gary, this is what AA is doing on nearly all the flights I have come across. Ignoring the issues with BE upsell costs, what AA has done to the pricing on their seating charts is absurd.

    Literally every single seat running nearly the length of the plane is now a proffered seat, especially if it is in the front half of the aircraft, with a selection charge of $15, $20, $35, or more. These seats have no extra legroom, they are just closer to the front door, barely. I am sick of being nickel and dimed left and right by AA, and I refuse to play this game. They no longer have my business, and I’ll gladly fly Southwest or any other competitor that flies a similar itinerary that suits my needs, even if the price is slightly higher.

  9. @Boraxo, if that info was omitted, how do you know? (It’s because it wasn’t omitted, and it’s right there on the screenshot!)

  10. Yep, this pretty much explains one of several reasons why we long ago ditched even considering flights on AA.

    The other reasons?

    Being lied to and told we “just missed” the cut-off for checked bags for a flight on one of the teeny tiny Embraer RJs AA used to fly that cannot fit in the overhead bins when the flight was probably oversold, and told we were “SOL” (or on our own), and therefore were not entitled to DBC at all and to buy new tickets either the next day for AA flights (or other airlines if we wished since, originally, they claimed we arrived “late”) despite us having arrived at JFK 90 mins ahead of the scheduled departure time for a flight to RDU, but then got bounced from one end of the check in area to the other til we found the correct section at the far end of the terminal where we could check in, and then waited in line to check in, and pay for/drop our bag.

    Oh, and did I forget to note, my partner had polio as a young child, and one of his legs was greatly impacted by this insidious disease?

    Yet, the ticket/counter agent insisted we were “too late” for our flight, and therefore on our own.

    Until I finally could not resolve matters with said agent and had no choice but to insist on speaking with the agent’s supervisor, of course. However, by the time everything was resolved the JFK flight had closed, and we were forced to race from JFK to LaGuardia to make a later flight to RDU from there which at 7ish in the evening for a slightly delayed 8:30pm flight would be virtually impossible by car, and practically a miracle to accomplish at all with a checked bag, plus the notebook computer and other carry ons we typically keep with us, in tow.

    But we did it…AirTrain to Jamaica…Long Island Railroad express to Woodside…car service for the last leg between Woodside and LaGuardia 8-10mins away…

    But it was an ordeal to say the least, and given the hardships for anyone, let alone a person whose ability to walk as easily or fast as most others do without hesitation is a luxury he does not have available at all, this incident (a few years ago) left us with a bitter taste.

    That, plus the new management team at AA that was largely the same management team that was notorious for failing to provide requested wheelchairs more than any other airline when flights arrived at US Airways, is the other reason we long ago ditched AA and put that airline on our “No-Fly” list along with Allegiant, Spirit or Frontier.

    Separately, but since the issue of leaving disabled passengers in the lurch is being discussed, something US Airways, and then AA after Parker & Co. took over, frequently did, and United or Delta (they as recently as 12 days ago at JFK were clearly neglecting their disabled pax who were being left to rot in a pen awaiting attendants to wheel them down the exceptionally long “B” concourse at Terminal 4 at JFK), Southwest shockingly [to us anyway given three other recent stellar performances within the past year that led us to believe Southwest was different and much better than airlines like American, United, or bigtime failing Delta at JFK earlier this month] left him, and several other disabled passengers in the lurch this past weekend at BWI).

    To which, I will ask: What’s up, Southwest?

    The pilot should NOT have to take it upon herself to arrange for the wheelchairs to be positioned in the jetway long after everyone else on the plane has long ago disembarked?

    And then, still, actually wheel the disabled pax into the terminal as she did for us, where I was available to take over for the rest of the way for the connection between the gates at the far end of Concourse “C” to the gates on the “B” Concourse?

    The pilot was awesome, and most assuredly deserves commendation for embodying the best of the Southwest spirit. But the incredibly lame excuses offered that it was the airport’s fault, or the third party contracted by Southwest’s fault, is ridiculous.

    And we, or the others on our flight were hardly the only disabled pax who were left to fend for themselves at BWI this past Friday night.

    We saw many others being wheeled through Concourse B in Southwest labeled wheelchairs by people who were NOT wearing either the third party ckntractor’s uniforms or Southwest employee uniforms.

    We expect to see that with lesser airlines…and certainly hope what we experienced first hand at BWI, and saw with our own eyes with a frequency that even we found a bit surprising, many others also being wheeled by non-airport and non-airport personnel.

    Mind you, when together, or when I can see my partner off for his business trips and obtain a gate pass to ensure he’s neither left to rot before someone finally shows up to bring him to his gate (as happened recently with Delta until I intervened on his behalf by noting my prior experience working at JFK and politely making clear I knew about the third party contractors the airlines use and what the liabilities thereof are), or even worse, abandons him once through security even when there’s a gate change, he and I have NO PROBLEM and don’t mind going the DIY route.

    But of late, that has not been allowed anymore. So he, and others, are now wholly dependent on the airlines fulfilling their responsibility in a timely, and professional manner, to their disabled pax.

    Something that seems to have gotten worse, of late, at most airlines – even shockingly, Southwest – EXCEPT believe it or not, United (go figure!), who were actually very good at Newark for his/our flight last Moday evening.

    But getting back to AA, and just how bad that airline has indeed become, we gave up on them ages ago for the reasons noted by Gary in this post, and by several commenters, and some other notable for all the wrong reasons exceptionally bad experiences that for us made clear AA is not ever an option to consider.

    I have an above average knowledge of the industry, in general, plus enough professional experience to know when an employee is deviating from policies and procedures or is attempting to shift blame to outside contractors for responsibilities (or liabilities) they are ulitimately responsible for.

    I also often see first hand, or certainly hear about when I’m not traveling, the issues disabled pax comstantly face when traveling, good (occasionally) or bad (sadly, more often than most non-disabled pax realize).

    So, when “stuff” happens and airline personnel try to “bluff” their way through things, completely unaware that I, or more and more my partner, are better informed than most pax, I (or my partner) can usually get matters resolved on the spot.

    But, we know full well the others probably won’t be as fortunate or as efficient in getting their needs attended to, and are profoundly concerned for the difficulties, or even humiliations, they commonly experience, based on things we far too often encounter ourselves such as the very disorganized process and exceptionally long waits we experienced, and others experienced far longer than we did ten days ago at JFK, waiting for a wheelchair and an attendant to be assigned to get to their gates.

    Or last Friday night at BWI when neither wheelchairs nor attendants were provided in a timely fashion, and but for the pilot taking it upon herself to ensure the needs of the disabled pax on our flight would be addressed – eventually and only after a lengthy delay – who knows how long it would’ve taken until wheelchairs AND more than just one attendant was provided despite the several disabled pax aboard our flight finally showed up?

    And unless one experiences for themselves how much greater the obstacles and hardships of navigating airports are when one is disabled, they cannot possibly imagine how bad the situation more often than not truly is.

    However, perhaps if I put it this way some, or at least those with enlightened minds will certainly understand:

    Imagine, if you will, all of the things that most of us find unpleasant, or even difficult to negotiate that air travel now entails from the moment we arrive at the airport until the moment we exit the airport at the other end of our trip, and everything in between…

    …then imagine having to deal with all that with impaired mobility (as my partner does to travel distances near or far); severely limited mobility (as my partner experiences for one leg especially that was impacted by polio when sitting or laying down); or even no independent mobility at all (as a great many passengers, especially the elderly, do)…

    For if one thinks the “hassle factor” of airports and air travel is bad, or has gotten even worse in recent years for most of us who are lucky enough to stand in endlessly long lines, or walk long distances to, from, between gates at airports, or to squeeze into teeny tiny seats in ridiculously narrow rows free from other physical impairments, you have no idea how much harder this is for those who cannot do this anywhere as easily or quickly as most of us take for granted…

  11. As I’ve mentioned once (or ten times) befrore I think AA sucks, But in this case, I actually think the American strategy is a win, win. AA fills flights and passengers who need to travel, rarely do so, and have limited funds can get a cheap flight. Of course 95+% of the time they are going to pay more, because they have luggage to check, but still it’s cheap. And we hear again and again, that 50% of pax travel < once per year, and their main focus is price.

    I'm Plat, live in Dallas, and avoid AA whenever possible, but then I'm not the target for these fares.
    I'm guessing the product will continue to get worse until the economics turn. I believe they have turned on the Aadvantage side. My college age kids get 65K card offers every 2 weeks (enough miles for most one way trips in coach and even some round trips). But with cheap fuel and a strong economy, it could be a while on the cash sale side.

  12. As always, there are some minor typos that are not always easily seen when using mobile devices and the text “disappears” or “hides” while being typed…

    With apologies, for any errors NOT noted below:

    Of course, it’s “contractors” and NOT the one where the “k” is where the first “o” should be;

    And it should be “non-airport” and “non-airline” personnel instead of the double “non-airport” seen above.

    Also, the question marks at the end of two sentences regarding the pilot intervening on our, and others’ behalf, and the sentence that follows noting that I took over for the pilot after she wheeled my partner up the jetway into Concourse “C” at BWI should be replaced by regular periods (“.”) at the end of both sentences/paragraphs.

    Finally, just to absolutely clear: the pilot was amazing and was very much a noteworthy example of the very best any employee at any airline can be.

    She made a difference, a big difference, in a situation she easily could’ve left to others to resolve.

    We deeply appreciate her efforts, and despite this especially disappointing lapse in performance by Southwest towards us and many other disabled pax last Friday nite at BWI, for us at least, her actions truly made the difference between the many bad experiences on other airlines we’ve experienced, and something that we hope this pilot’s actions is an example we can cite as something that truly sets Southwest apart.

    Our upcoming flights are on other airlines, not Southwest…

    …but that’s largely because Southwest does NOT fly nonstop from NYC to/from that city, and a connection via Islip from Manhattan won’t work as it did last Friday when drastically reduced schedules was a factor that made a connection via BWI from RDU on Southwest viable…

    We only wish Southwest flew between NYC and RDU…but alas, they don’t…

    …of course, hopefully someday soon, they will…because with roundtrips now often more than $500 for standard coach, and that’s just for the awful, squished 30” row pitched seats, plus $50 for the checked bag we need to do to eliminate every additional obstacle possible such as schlepping a 35-50 lbs bag thru an airport that is anything but a luxury, choice, perk or option when considering the needs of many disabled pax, has rendered a once reasonably priced itinerary between NYC and RDU of anywhere between $160 to $275 each roundtrip in years past, to something so ridiculously and obscenely expensive, we recently opted to rent a car and drive instead when there was a death in the family, and have skipped several trips to see our family we took in past years simply because we find $500+ each roundtrip for standard seats and additional fees for checked bags to be nothing short of outrageous.

    These flights are less than 500 miles each way. So, even after allowing for taxes, 9/11 fees and PFCs, to us, and especially me who is well versed in things like casm, rasm & prasm, $500+ r/t NYC-RDU plus the array additional fees makes this eyeball gouging fare an indication of how desperately lacking meaningful competition is on this cartelized route that’s become symptomatic of the oligopoly that exists in our country now for most routes that don’t begin or end on a handful of cities on either coast.

    Ah, but I digress…

  13. Yeah, AA is winning the race to the bottom. I thought United had hit rock bottom with the beating up the passengers but AA is closing in on them.

    Its nice to beat them at their own game for once. I had booked 4 European tickets 6 months ago for $500 each for a trip in March. However, life got in the way and I knew I would need to cancel. They wanted $275 each to cancel and then I’d have the balance as a nonrefundable credit for 6 more months. Whee – I lose about half of my funds and then have to figure out how to spend the credits before they expire. So I just sat on it and hoped for a schedule change.

    Yesterday I got it – the return flight was landing 1 hour and 5 minutes later than originally planned. Gee – imagine that I didn’t want to accept the schedule change and got ALL of my funds refunded. Nice to know they don’t win all the time!!!

  14. Actually, not everything in this article is accurate. Especially, the family seating. Please check facts before printing.

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