While each airline has slightly different rules for its Basic Economy fare, the decision of American to join Delta and United in offering these budget fares is, overall, good news for the consumer, said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and president of the Atmosphere Research Group.
"Not only does this provide more price competition, but thanks to the larger airlines' more extensive schedules, it may be easier for passengers to find low fare flights," he said. It also shows the airlines' willingness "to fight to keep every possible passenger they can, along with every penny of revenue."
To get the best value out of booking a basic economy fare, Seaney says to pack light and take advantage of the option to check a bag for free if you have elite status or a credit card that will defray the fee.
Check in as early as possible and complain quickly if kids under 12 traveling with you are not seated with you, said Seaney. "And be prepared to sit in a middle seat and take 20 minutes to deplane from the back."
Also, don't look for these prices on every route. Seaney expects American's Basic Economy fares to be offered mostly on competitive nonstop routes with a Spirit/Frontier overlap.
While lower fares on some routes may be appreciated by budget-conscious fliers, "Flying under this new fare strata model is evocative of what life must have been like on the Titanic," said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. "Passengers arranged in first, second, and third class cabins, with third class the equivalent of these new 'basic economy' seats. It gives me an uneasy, sinking feeling realizing that we're not all in the same boat when we fly."