Report: American Airlines May Compete with Spirit’s Ultra-Cheap Fares

Flying dollar bill

According to Skift, American Airlines' CEO has "all but acknowledged" that the legacy carrier will probably bring so-called basic economy fares to its passengers sometime next year. Hey, it's worked for Delta.

LISTEN: What does airfare expert Rick Seaney have to  say? Plenty.

American Airlines vs. Spirit's Cheap Fares?

The theory is that cheaper, basic economy fares would level the playing field for American to compete against a discounter like Spirit. The prize is the cost-conscious infrequent flyer. It's a big prize, says airfare analyst and FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney. "These cost-sensitive travelers are necessary for airlines to be profitable in a 90% load factor business model," said Seaney, "especially when the current fuel price windfall subsides."

NOTE: Unlike business travelers, infrequent flyers pay their own way so they often choose airlines known for cheap fares. This can be a mistake: FareCompare has proved again and again that no single airline always has the cheapest fare (which is why you must compare fares) but the perception remains.

How Delta's Cheap Fares Work

If American does make the move to basic economy, it'll mean more than lower fares; passengers purchasing such tickets will likely find fewer frills and more fees. "To be honest," said Rick Seaney, "on domestic flights in non-premium economy coach, I don't know what 'frills' means anymore." Delta's frill-less basic economy model may be what American is aiming for, and this is what it won't give you, per Delta's basic economy explainer page:

  • No advance seat selection
  • No ticket changes
  • No paid or complimentary upgrades
  • No early boarding (you can't even pay for it)

Delta does allow free carry-on bags, but one wonders if this could change. After all, discount airlines like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant have been charging for all bags for years.

Just asking: Would you accept even fewer amenities on a big carrier in exchange for a cheaper flight? We'd love to hear.

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