American Airlines has introduced aclass of bare-bones, “Basic Economy” fares that offer lower prices but eliminateseveral privileges for fliers, including access to overhead bins for carry-on luggage. But for holders of the airline’s co-branded credit cards, there’s good news in the fine print: Theywon’t suffer some of the most painful cuts.

Most significant: Holders of eligible AAdvantage credit cardscan buy the cheap fares with their cards andcontinue to have access to overhead bins and priority boarding. An example is theCiti® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®.

American’smove follows United Airlines’ announcement two months earlier of its ownno-frills fares, also called “Basic Economy.” Both airlines said they would limit Basic Economy passengers to a single carry-on itemthat fits under the seat in front of them. That allows for a purse, briefcase or smallbackpack, butessentially prohibitsstandard roll-aboards and duffels. Customers must check other baggage — for a fee.

The other major network carrier,Delta Air Lines, already offers no-frills fares, but it doesn’t restrict overhead bin access.


Airline executives have said Basic Economy seating is an attempt to cater to price-sensitive infrequent fliers and keep them from defecting to ultra-low-price discounters such as Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier.

The case for airline credit cards

The new Basic Economy fares make airline cards more valuable than for just earning frequent-flier miles. They allow cardholders to pay less for a plane ticket but not suffer some of the worst downsides to no-frills fares.

Luggage room: Besides being exempted from overhead bin space restrictions, cardholderstypically get their first checked bag free. The privilege often extends to others traveling on the same flightitinerary. With the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®, it covers the cardholder and up to four others.

At $25 each way for achecked bag, a cardholder could make up the typical $95 annual fee on an airline credit card ina single round trip with a companion, if each checked a bag.While severalgeneral travel credit cardsoffer higher rewards rates and more flexible redemption options, airline cards are the only ones to offer free checked bags.

Priority boarding:Although Basic Economy fliers will board the plane last, those who paid the fare with their AAdvantage credit card will still get priority or preferred boarding. So, if they do have carry-on luggage, they are more likely to find a place for it before the overhead bin space is full.

TheCiti® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®has an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95. TheCiti® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®offers more perks, including airport Admirals Club membership, for an annual fee of$450. The business version is theCitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, with an annual fee of$0 for the first year, then $95.

Basic Economy downsides

Purchasers of American’s Basic Economy fares will lose other privileges, even if they’re cardholders.

Seat assignments.Basic Economy customers will not receive a seat assignment until check-in, meaning they could be headed for an undesirablemiddle seat and might not be able to sit with travel partners. (American says it will continue to try to seat children under age 13 with an adult.) Basic Economy passengers can pay extra forseat assignments 48 hours before the flight.

Flight changes.Basic Economy passengers won’t be eligible for upgrades or same-day standby or flight changes, making the tickets “use it or lose it.”

Loyalty earnings. Basic Economy customers will earn halfas many frequent-fliermiles or segments toward elite status as customers who buy regular fares.

Aside from overhead bin space and seat selection, in-cabin service is the same:the same seats andfree entertainment options, soft drinks and snacks.

Besides credit card holders, travelers with elite status on American willalso be exempted from some restrictions that come with Basic Economy fares.

In its mid-January announcement,American said Basic Economy fares would go on sale the next monthin 10 markets, with the first flights shortly after. The airline said it expected to expand to more markets later in 2017. Not all American Airlines flights will offer the new Basic Economy fares.

Gregory Karp is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website.

The article Use American Airlines Card, Avoid Low-Fare Carry-On Ban originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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