Call it the Spirit Effect: American Airlines will be the latest major carrier to offer a no-frills, stripped-down, bare-bones version of its ticket.
Starting next year, according to USA Today, American Airlines will begin offering tickets that cannot be changed or refunded or offer advance seat assignment. This new category, which will all but guarantee a middle seat on most flights, are designed to have a price that appears at the top of the airfare booking engines' search results.
The airline was essentially forced into it in order to look competitive to leisure travelers. Right now, when you do a search for a flight on a third-party booking website, Spirit Airlines always seems to float to the top on routes where it flies.
This is because Spirit's fares are drastically "unbundled"—as many passengers have learned too late, Spirit's prices are so low because it includes almost nothing, from baggage allowances to seating assignments. Passengers add more money to obtain those once-basic services once they have purchased the base fare.
American is tired of appearing as if it's not the best value, and to make sure it appears evenly with its competition, Spirit, it will offer an even worse value to catch up.
Delta did something similar with its Basic Economy fare. They don't appear on every flight—just ones that compete with Spirit, Frontier, and the other airlines with a la carte pricing.
Having flown American Airlines only yesterday, we can confirm that American doesn't have far to go in offering a bare-bones ticket. Most of the niceties of its product for non-business travelers were monetized long ago. Even on Economy flights now, passengers pay extra for everything, from movies (from $5) to headphones ($5) to food. A plastic-wrapped blanket and a soft drink are pretty much the only things you get for free, and those will still be available to the new bare-bones ticket holders, provided the airline can't figure out a way to remove the blanket from seats where customers haven't ponied up first.
The new ticket type will offer the same level of a la carte in-flight service paired with a much angrier set of booking restrictrions.
Photo credit: Jason Cochran