Cattle class coming to American Air – how do you make it better?

American Airlines sent notifications this morning that they’re introducing their Basic Economy fares in late February, 2017.

Joining United and Delta in this bottom-tier offering, American says you’ll soon be able to save some money by forgoing overhead bins, seat assignments prior to check-in, flight changes, or boarding before the last group. As an extra “bonus,” American will give you half an Elite Qualifying Mile (EQM) for each mile flown in Basic Economy. That’s half the EQMs you’d get in regular economy.

Two other enhancements are that you can pay a fee to select a seat 24 hours before your flight, and gate-checking a bag for Basic Economy will carry a bag fee and a $25 gate service fee.

aa-basic-economy-baggage

The end of the world as we know it?

It’s a challenge to find a positive to this offering, as an American flyer who’s often been budget-constrained.

However, I think for people flying other classes of service, the experience might improve. Here’s how I see this playing out, or at least how I hope it plays out.

  • Reducing the bags that get brought through security should speed up TSA screening as well as boarding and eventual departure.
  • The last people to board will not be the ones with the barely-legal carryons that they want to slap aisle seaters in the head with as they try to cram them into a purse-sized gap in the back row before rolling back to the front to gate-check. They’ll be carrying a bag that fits under the seat, and hopefully can get settled (even in a dreaded middle seat) and get us on our way.
  • There are exceptions for travelers with American status and travelers with American Airlines co-branded credit cards.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now…

Yep, there are status exceptions for some of the constraints of Basic Economy.

aa-basic-economy-status

So people with these statuses will be able to board per status, overhead bin use or not (and I expect most of us will bring an overhead bin bag). This shouldn’t impact the end-of-boarding process, as if you’re boarding during priority with an overhead bin bag, you’re about where you were before the changes.

The cards that qualify include the Barclay and Citi cards, as follows:

aa-basic-economy-cards

How does this compare to the other airlines?

I had to dig into this, and I might have missed a few things, since I primarily fly American and Southwest.

United:

Seats assigned at check-in, no voluntary ticket changes or upgrades, last boarding group except with status

No carry-ons except for MileagePlus Premier, co-branded credit card, or Star Alliance Gold

No Premier qualifying credits/four segment minimum credits

Delta:

Seats assigned at check-in, no voluntary changes or upgrades, last boarding group

Carry-ons and overhead bin access do not appear to be impacted

Medallion qualifying credits are earned (MQM, MQS, and MQD for US members)

So where do we go from here?

If you’re of average leg length or less, have more concern over budget than convenience, or mostly fly short flights on American, Basic Economy looks like it will be survivable.

Otherwise, it seems to be time American flyers to either chase status if you don’t have it already, or get a qualifying American Airlines co-branded credit card to get you out of the bottom of cattle class. I have status and a card this year, and this is likely to motivate me to keep the card even if I don’t maintain status in 2018.

How does this new offering impact you? Do you have an inflatable escape chute or will Basic Economy leave you treading water? Will this make you change your airline of choice? Join the conversation in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

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