Say goodbye to a free checked bag: American Airlines is taking no-frills basic economy to Europe

Key Points
  • American Airlines rolled out restrictive, no-frills fares last year.
  • Restrictions include no seat assignments and baggage fees.
  • The fares will be available from April.
American Airlines planes at Heathrow Airport.
Steve Parsons | Getty Images

Budget-conscious travelers can forget about a free checked bag this spring.

Starting in April, American Airlines is taking its no-frills basic economy class to Europe, meaning travelers in the lowest level coach ticket won't get a free checked bag, seat selection or the ability to upgrade.

The airline, the world's largest, follows competitor Delta Air Lines in expanding the restrictive fares to Europe.

American will allow basic economy passengers on transatlantic routes to use overhead bins. Domestic basic economy fares offered by American and its rival United Airlines, unlike Delta's, prohibit passengers from stowing items overhead.

American has not yet disclosed how much it will charge basic economy passengers for a checked bag, said spokesman Joshua Freed. Delta said it will charge basic economy passengers $60 for a checked bag on transatlantic routes.

The basic economy fares will also be available on American's transatlantic partner carriers International Consolidated Airline Group units British Airways and Iberia.

Airlines are expanding basic economy to drum up more revenue in the form of higher fares and fees. Executives at Delta and American recently estimated that around half of passengers pay up for regular economy.

The airlines are also facing down a crop of upstart transatlantic airlines that in exchange for a low base fare sell perks that used to be free on many airlines like seat selection, food and cabin baggage.

U.S. airlines in 2016 took in more than $4 billion in baggage fees.

Basic economy is also a selling point for airlines' co-branded credit cards, which often give travelers a free checked bag and priority boarding.

These cards give travelers a reason to stick with a certain airline and carriers make money by selling frequent flyer miles to banks. American spokesman Freed said basic economy passengers will still have to pay to check a bag if they're traveling internationally, even with co-branded cards, however.