American Airlines Basic Economy fares are problematic for business

A few months back, American Airlines announced a new class of fares aimed at those who wanted the least expensive journey possible. Called “basic economy,” it looks as if these fares use booking code/fare class B. They are cheaper than regular economy fares, and that is a great option. However, you do not get an assigned seat until check in, and you do not even get to store a bag in an overhead bin. This process is completely transparent when booking on American’s own website, but there are at least two major problems: Those whose corporate travel policies require them to book the cheapest possible fares, and those searching for fares on third party booking sites. American Airlines basic economy fares are a problem if you don’t do your own booking directly on their website.

Let’s start with corporate travel policies. My employer requires, as do many other, that I purchase the cheapest airfare possible. That means that for a flight I am taking from MAF to DFW in September, I book the $238 Basic Economy fare. Except that…. well, paying more would actually save my employer money. A regular economy fare costs $278, but that would let me have a bag in the overhead bin. I am gone for three days, so I will need a change of clothes. On the Basic Economy fare, that means I will have to pay $25 each way for a carry on bag. That means that I will spend a minimum of $288 on this trip, which actually costs more. At the same time, I cannot select a seat, I cannot hope for an upgrade, and there are a number of other limitations.

Hoping to deal with this problem, I went to the Chase Ultimate Rewards website. I have a ton of points, and I briefly considered simply purchasing my own ticket in that “currency.” However, when I priced out the fare I noticed that it was… wait for it… $238. That site was coming up with the cheapest possible fare. So third party booking agents will pull up those fares when available, and that isn’t a great option for a lot of travelers.

The moral of this story? Be very careful what class of airfare you are purchasing if you do it anywhere other than American’s own website. Work with your corporate travel agent to see if something other than the front line price of the ticket matters. And, American Airlines, if you are listening out there, please help solve this problem for business and leisure travelers alike.

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