American unveils prices, routes for new cheapest fare

American Airlines
FILE - In this Friday, June 3, 2016 file photo, an American Airlines passenger jet takes off from Miami International Airport in Miami. American and United have started selling cheaper "basic economy" fares as they battle discount airlines for the most budget-conscious travelers, announced Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

DALLAS (AP) — American Airlines has begun selling cheaper “basic economy” fares as it battles discount airlines for the most budget-conscious travelers.

American announced Tuesday that it began selling the new fares for flights starting March 1 on 10 different routes from its hub airports in Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia and Charlotte, North Carolina.

With a basic-economy fare on American you can’t pick your seat when you buy the ticket, you’re in the last group to board the plane, and you can only carry a small item that fits under the seat. You’ll pay extra to check a wheeled bag.

The savings over a regular economy ticket appear to range from about $24 to $40 for a round-trip ticket. For example, on two random early-March itineraries between Dallas and Baltimore, economy tickets were listed on American’s website at $249 and $309. Those same trips were priced at $209 and $269 on basic economy.

Even on the routes where American is selling the new fares, they are usually available only on a small number of flights — sometimes one or two a day — and on some days, none at all.

Bargain hunters will see more basic-economy options when searching one-way flights, rather than round trips, because American will not allow flyers to buy a round trip that combines the new cheaper fare on one leg with a regular economy fare on the other. On one-way flights, the price break can be as little as $12.

American, the world’s biggest airline, said it will eventually add basic-economy fares on other routes.

Basic economy fares were introduced by Delta Air Lines several years ago in response to growing competition from discounter Spirit Airlines. Spirit and Frontier Airlines offer bargain-basement fares but add on more fees than the bigger airlines, including charging for use of overhead bins. They have gained ground among travelers looking for the cheapest price.

Delta now offers basic economy on about 40 percent of its U.S. routes and plans to cover its entire domestic network by mid-year.

United Airlines says it will start testing the concept in Minneapolis by the end of March.