Use the American Airlines card, avoid the ban on low-cost travel
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Since the initial publication of this article, American Airlines has removed the carry-on baggage restriction for tickets purchased or stolen effective September 5, 2018.
American Airlines has introduced a single fare class, “Basic Economy” which offers lower prices but eliminates several privileges for travelers, including access to the upper compartments for hand luggage. But for holders of the airline’s co-branded credit cards, there’s good news in the fine print: They won’t suffer some of the most painful cuts.
The American movement follows United Airlines announcement two months earlier of its own no-frills fares, also called “Basic Economy”. Both airlines have said they will limit Basic Economy passengers to one piece of hand luggage that can fit under the seat in front of them. This allows for a handbag, briefcase, or small backpack, but essentially bans standard roll-aboards and duffel bags. Customers must check in other baggage, for a fee.
The network’s other major carrier, Delta Air Lines, already offers no-frills fares, but it does not restrict access to air compartments.
Airlines executives said Basic Economy seats were an attempt to cater for infrequent, price-sensitive travelers and prevent them from defecting to super-low-cost discounters such as Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier.
The case of airline credit cards
New Basic Economy fares make air travel cards more attractive than just earning frequent flyer miles. They allow cardholders to pay less for a plane ticket, but not suffer the worst drawbacks of no-frills fares.
Luggage storage: In addition to being exempt from top bin space restrictions, cardholders typically get their first checked baggage free of charge. The privilege often extends to other people traveling on the same flight route. With the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, it covers the card holder and up to four others.
At $ 30 per trip for one checked baggage, a cardholder could offset the typical annual fee of $ 95 on an airline credit card in a single round trip with a companion, if each has checked in a bag. While several general travel credit cards offer higher reward rates and more flexible redemption options, only airline cards offer free checked baggage.
Priority boarding: Although Basic Economy passengers board the plane last, those who have paid the fare with their AAdvantage credit card will still be granted priority or preferred boarding. So, if they have carry-on luggage, they are more likely to find a place for it before the top compartment space is full.
Disadvantages of Basic Economics
Buyers of American Basic Economy fares will lose other privileges, even if they are cardholders.
Allocation of seats. Basic Economy customers will not receive a seat assignment prior to check-in, which means they might head to an unwanted middle seat and might not be able to sit with travel partners. (American says it will continue to try to seat children under 13 with an adult.) Basic Economy passengers may pay extra for seat allocation 48 hours before the flight.
Flight changes. Basic Economy passengers will not be eligible for upgrades, holdings or same day flight changes, making tickets “use or lose”.
Loyalty gains. Basic Economy customers will earn half as many miles or frequent flyer segments to Elite status as customers who purchase regular fares.
Aside from the overhead storage space and seat selection, cabin service is the same: the same seats and the same free entertainment options, soft drinks and snacks.
In addition to credit card holders, travelers with Elite status on American will also be exempt from certain restrictions associated with Basic Economy fares.
In its mid-January announcement, American said Basic Economy fares would go on sale next month in 10 markets, with the first flights shortly thereafter. The airline said it plans to expand to other markets later in 2017. Not all American Airlines flights will offer the new Basic Economy fares.