Flight New Jersey Reviews

Review: AA LAX-JFK Basic Economy

The view from the back of the plane
The view from the back of the plane

Review: American Airlines LAX-JFK Round Trip in Basic Economy.

I recently flew roundtrip to Los Angeles to New York to attend a quick weekend wedding with my wife. We flew a ‘red eye’ to JFK, and a nighttime flight back to LAX in Basic Economy, which is a new fare class that American rolled out earlier this year.

The Gate at LAX Terminal 5
The Gate at LAX Terminal 5

Now, I have Executive Platinum (EXP) status which is American’s highest tier status, without invitation to their ConciergeKey program. One might ask why I flew Basic Economy when as an EXP? Well here’s why:

  1. I figure the price I pay for a flight is only worth what I experience from it.
    In a red eye, I plan to try and catch some sleep – why pay extra for a regular seat when I won’t even be awake to ‘experience’ it? One could argue it’s for better sleep quality.  But, what does an extra 6 inches of knee room actually contribute to improving sleep quality? May as well buy a lie-flat business seat for that matter!
  2. For a weekend, I don’t need a ton of luggage.
    Basic Economy does not allow you to bring any overhead-bin items. But, all my wife and I needed was two backpacks in total. Besides, with AAdvantage status, you’re allowed one extra overhead-bin item anyways, despite the Basic Economy no-overhead-carry-on restriction.
  3. I’m so used to flying in any seat that it does not matter to me where I sit.
    Basic Economy does not allow you to choose your seat – it is assigned to you upon check in, mobile or otherwise, regardless of status (even for EXPs). This may be an issue for some, but it wasn’t long ago that I lacked status and sat in coach. I’m familiar with AA’s product, and frankly I’ve sat in tighter quarters for longer durations. I’m not worried where I sit.
  4. The numbers were ‘just’ right.
    Flying basic economy means your Elite Qualifying Miles are earned at a 0.5/mile rate. However, Elite Qualifying Dollars are still based on 1.0x your base fare. I calculated how many EQDs and EQMs I would need to requalify for Executive Platinum status next year. With this flight, I will just make it over the threshold of 100k EQM / $12k EQD by the end of the year. I don’t want to overachieve, any EQM/EQD does not carry over for next year’s status on the AAdvantage program.

Of course, some of my reasoning is based on my own preferences and philosophies. But, for a 4.5 hour flight to JFK and a 5.5 hour return to LAX for a quick in-and-out east coast trip, basic economy seemed to be the way to go!

The view from the back of the plane
The view from the back of the plane

LAX-JFK was easy enough. My wife and I were placed in the aisle seats on the same row in the back of the plane. Luckily, there was enough overhead space left over after everyone boarde.  This allowed us to free up our underseat storage space.

Can only do this with Aisle seats, unfortunately...
Can only do this with Aisle seats, unfortunately…

I was surprised with the leg room, perhaps because I was expecting much less!. Sitting up, I still had a few inches of knee room before hitting the seat in front of me. Now, I’m about 5’8″, so I can imagine that for people 6’0 and taller, basic economy is a deal breaker. There’s not a lot of room to get comfortable in to sleep, much less to spend a few hours grinding your knees into the seat in front of you.

Any less room and it may be a problem
Any less room and it may be a problem

For ‘glass half full’ folks, it may be considered a perk to sit in the back of the plane, especially with aisle seats. You have great access to the restroom without having to bump into many, if any, people along the way, especially on a red eye flight.

The basic economy seats on the plane recline a good amount, and the headrests have the entertainment screens on them. I’ve always thought American’s on-demand inflight entertainment options provide a good offering. I’ll watch a movie or two if I can, and it’s usually something that I’ve had a passive interest in seeing someday. Great to see it offered in the basic economy option.

Haven't seen the same flight attendant twice...
Haven’t seen the same flight attendant twice…

The attendants gave out a choice of chicken wrap, veggie wrap, or fruit and cheese plate. I took the fruit and cheese with a gin and tonic – alcoholic drinks are complimentary for Executive Platinum members, and the attendants do check IDs. I figured it would help me knock out for the night, and it did – alcohol hits you harder in the air.

Nothing wrong with the classics
Nothing wrong with the classics

The JFK-LAX return flight was a little more uncomfortable. This time I was stuck in a window seat, which I prefer by the way – I’m a kid at heart. But, the ‘problematic’ lack of leg space this time was now apparent – a 1/4 of the underseat storage space is taken up by the In-Flight Electronics box. As this particular flight was full, there was no opportunity to put my backpack in the overhead bin this time.

That IFE box is a pain...
That IFE box is a pain…

The passenger in front of me reclined all the way. Even though I did the same so I can have enough space to write this review during the flight, the top of the seat in front of me pushes my laptop screen forward. This not only reduces arm space to type, but also makes for an uncomfortable neck position as I face down to type. This is not the first time it’s happened to me, and I get the same problem in Main Cabin Extra. Yet, the issue is definitely more pronounced in Basic Economy. I really should invest in a tablet.

Verdict:

All-in-all, I feel that basic economy is not that all different from regular economy. The biggest differences are not being able to choose your seat and additional luggage restrictions. The one thing that I forego as a flyer with status is the ability to potentially get upgraded. For some with EXP status, that may also be a deal breaker. But, I’m aware that a good number of EXP members fly the LAX-JFK route, and as a result, chances are slim to get upgraded anyway. You should have seen how many people rushed into the gate once the attendants called Group 2 to board! In that sense, I’m glad I saved the extra couple hundred dollars I would have paid in regular economy to get to the same destination.

For the average flyer, I would recommend to think first about your trip before booking Basic Economy to see if it makes sense for you. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How long is your flight?
  • How long do you plan to stay at your destination and do you need a lot of luggage?
  • Can you easily sleep on flights and pull a red-eye?
  • Do you mind sitting in any seat?
  • Are you a tall person or someone with long legs?
  • Do you plan on using a laptop or tablet?
  • Need to use the restroom a lot?

Considering your situation, Basic Economy may make sense. In my opinion, this particular Basic Economy flight is a little overpriced for the product. Lacking the space that you do, while foregoing some product options, and still paying roughly $450 per person is a bit steep, in my opinion, for what is supposed to be a ‘basic’ product. However, considering the higher fares I encountered for higher classes of travel, I still feel it was a logical choice for what I needed.

Have you traveled in basic economy and have experiences to share? Share your comments below!

  • American Airlines LAX-JFK Basic Economy
3.5

Overall, it was okay.

Pros:
Lower Price
Same Entertainment Options as regular fare (aircraft dependent)
Seats recline just as good as regular fare
Status is still recognized in waiving some Basic Economy restrictions

Cons:
Less leg room
Fares can still be pricey (route dependent)
Forego any chance of upgrade (status independent)
No seat choice

About the author

Jonny

Jonathan "Jonny" Avila is a chubby young professional with a cat, wife, and a taste for life! Believes in 'paying it forward' by sharing the tools, tips, tricks, and lessons from his own experiences so you too can jump on the Travel Bandwagon and enjoy what this wonderful world has to offer!

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