Which American Airlines Credit Cards Override Basic Economy Hand Baggage & Boarding Rules?

a group of credit cards

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The introduction of Basic Economy fares by the US legacy carriers has ushered in a new era of fare unbundling and benefit stripping as the airlines attempt to nickel and dime as many passengers as is physically possible.

The degree to which Basic Economy fares strip out passenger benefits varies from airline to airline but they all inconvenience passengers in one way or another. Holding airline status or the right credit card can go a long way to mitigating some of these inconveniences and making the whole Basic Economy experience a little more tolerable.

American Airlines Business Class A321American Airlines A320 Economy Class

In this series of 3 posts (one for each of the US legacy airlines) I’m going to take a look at which credit cards offer a way around some of the more inconvenient Basic Economy rules the airlines have introduced.

Posts in this series:

In this post, I’m taking a look at American Airlines

American Airlines Basic Economy

With American Airlines Basic Economy fares the standard rules are (assuming the passenger has no airline status):

  • Only one carry-on bag allowed and this must fit under the seat ahead of you – no access to overhead bins.
  • No checked baggage allowance
  • Fare is not eligible for upgrades
  • Fee to choose a specific seat within 48 hours from departure
  • Seats are assigned at check-in if no seating fee paid
  • No flight changes or refunds allowed
  • Fares earn redeemable miles
  • Fares earn Elite Qualifying Miles and Elite Qualifying Dollars at a reduced rate
  • Passengers board in the final group – Group 9

There is nothing passengers can do about the upgrade, flight change, seat assignment or refund rules (if they’ve bought a Basic Economy fare) but there is something that can be done about the remainder of the rules.

American Airlines Co-Branded Credit Cards

Passengers who hold the following credit cards get special dispensations:

  • Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard – $450 annual fee

Citi Credit Cards

  • Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard- $95 annual fee

Citi Credit Cards

  • CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard – $95 annual fee

a credit card with a map

  • AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard – $195 annual fee

AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard

  • AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard – $95 annual fee

AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard

  • AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard – $95 annual fee

a credit card with a red and silver design

The Dispensations

Holders of the credit cards listed above can:

  • Board with 2 items of hand baggage – one that fits underneath the seat and one regular sized item of hand baggage that can be stowed in the overhead bins.
  • Enjoy priority boarding in Group 4 (Citi / AAdvantage Executive card holders) or Group 5 (all other named credit cards)
  • Keep their checked baggage allowance

A traveler holding one of these credit cards essentially gets to keep the baggage allowance they would have had if they had bought a regular Economy Class ticket as well as keeping their place in the boarding order.

The credit cards offer these dispensations to the card holder and to a number of other passengers traveling on the same reservation – that number depends on the credit card held.

Credit cards that cover the card holder and up to 8 other people:

  • Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
  • AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard

Credit cards that cover the card holder and up to 4 other people:

  • Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
  • CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
  • AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard
  • AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard

a row of seats on an airplaneImage courtesy of American Airlines


Some of these dispensations may not seem like all that much but, in reality, these benefits can make a big difference.

A full hand baggage allowance means a traveler can pack enough clothes for a good length trip while not being forced to board last means there’s a reasonable chance that there will be space left in the overhead bins to stow bags (and therefore reduce the risk of having to gate-check a bag).

I’m not going to say which of the above credit cards is the one to get as they all offer different benefits on top of those that circumvent some of the Basic Economy rules…but if you fly with American Airlines with any kind of frequency you should definitely have one of these credit cards in your wallet.

When deciding which of these cards is best for you make sure you consider the annual fee, how many people you need the card to cover and how often you actually expect to use the cards benefits.

Bear in mind that you do not have to use the AAdvantage co-branded credit card to purchase your fare in order to be able to take advantage of the dispensations the credit card offers – simply holding the credit card is enough to ensure that you and your traveling companions are covered by the dispensations.


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