American Airlines Admits Its Basic Economy Fares Don't Offer A New Discount (And You Thought This Might Be Good News)

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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

Every time you think you’re going to save money, you get a little excited, don’t you?

It feels like a win. It feels like you’ve succeeded where others have failed.

So when the larger airlines started to trumpet their new Basic Economy fares, you thought that you’d be able to travel on these airlines for less.

Well, now.

Last night, I mused about United’s new Basic Economy fares. If you haven’t heard about these, they take away many of your previous privileges — for example, the ability to change your flight, the ability to have anything more than a carry-on that first under the seat in front.

In return, they promise to be cheaper.

United’s Basic Economy launched today and the fares do, at first glance, look exactly the same as the airline’s previous lowest fares for the same route.

When I asked United about this, I didn’t get even a basic, economical reply. This despite United’s president Scott Kirby insisting in a press release that these new fares are “transformational.”

I focused hard, but still couldn’t find that transformational part.

It looked like United was offering the same old lowest fares and taking a few perks away just for entertainment. I mean for the ability to upsell, of course.

So I thought to myself: “How about American? They’re launching Basic Economy today too.”

I stared at American’s Basic Economy offering, which is slightly more generous on the carry-on allowance than is United, but still very restrictive.

Yet again, I wasn’t sure that the fares were necessarily lower than any fares offered before.

With my natural naïveté continuing to be my sword, I contacted American.

I again wondered whether passengers could expect lower fares than they’d experienced before.

I fear that this may have made someone at American chuckle, then snort, then guffaw louder than a landing 777.

Indeed, I got a reply from an airline spokesman who referred me to a paragraph in a press release.

The press release offered a helpful Q&A. Among the questions was: “Is this a new fare discount?”

The answer was delicious.

“In general these fares will be lower than regular Main Cabin fares in the same way that Main Cabin fares are lower than Business Class. The idea is to give customers a choice in the kind of ticket they want to purchase. It’s not a new discount, but a new set of attributes for our lowest fares.”

Somehow, they’d managed to miss out a word or two. It ought to read: “A new set of less attractive attributes for our same lowest fares.”

So remember those economy fares with more restrictions? The ones that were always the cheapest, but least flexible? The ones that were on the left of the pricing grid?

Welcome to the new Basic Economy. The same old lowest fare, but with a few more restrictions added.

It’s not a new discount. It simply isn’t. American says so.

As Spirit Airlines CEO Bob Fornaro told Bloomberg of the big airlines’ new wheeze: “A lot of their best customers can be the most upset. It’s not a brand new product, it’s a pricing scheme.”

And Spirit, a budget airline, knows all about pricing schemes.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Great read at the moment with all the news about planes falling down from the sky to staff kicking people off planes I think I will stay on the ground for now and do it old style.

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