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American Airlines is making ‘basic economy’ rules less punishing

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Starting September 5th, basic economy passengers will be allowed a carry-on bag in addition to a personal item

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Earlier this year, American Airlines announced that it was joining with Delta and United Airlines in introducing “basic economy,” which lowers the price of airfare at the cost of some standard amenities. But this week, the airline reversed course and said it would ease some of the restrictions that come with the cheaper fares.

Previously, basic economy ticket holders who were flying domestically were allowed only a personal item to stash under the seat in front of them, and no full-sized carry on. But starting September 5th, those domestic flyers will be allowed to bring both a carry-on and a personal item. It’s a sign that American Airlines is relaxing some of its more draconian rules in a bid to make its basic economy tickets more competitive with other carriers.

“Basic economy is working well in the markets where we offer it, and we continue to see more than 60 percent of customers buy up to Main Cabin when offered a choice,” said American Airlines president Robert Isom in a statement. “Removing the bag restriction will make basic economy more competitive, allowing us to offer this low-fare product to more customers.”

Of course, other basic economy restrictions still apply. Ticket holders don’t get a seat assignment until they check in to their flight. For an added fee, they can change the seat assignment, or pick their own seat beforehand. They won’t be able to upgrade their ticket after purchase, though, and won’t be able to make same-day flight changes or try to board an earlier flight on standby.

American isn’t alone in adopting these restrictive basic economy packages. Both Delta and United have their own versions. Experts and travel writers see it as an attempt to make flying unpleasant enough that customers would spend more to avoid it. The problem is most consumers use travel sites like Expedia, Priceline, or Kayak that aggregate tickets and organize them with the cheapest at the top. Passengers may not know what they are signing up for when purchasing these ultra low-cost tickets until it’s too late.

To be sure, making flights more affordable has its advantages, but the fees involved with getting around the restrictions of a basic economy ticket might wind up costing some customers more in the long run. It’s a strategy that is paying off big time for airlines, which raked in almost $60 billion in fees worldwide in 2017.