The idea of a ‘basic’ economy class ticket isn’t new: Less frills, less cost. Let’s break down the pros and cons to buying this type of plane seat.

PHOENIX — Shopping for airline tickets just got more complicated.

American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, has expanded its no-frills basic economy fares to most U.S. routes after testing them on select flights for months.

With that expansion in early September, three of the big four U.S. airlines — American, United and Delta —  now offer basic economy fares throughout the country. (Southwest Airlines does not offer them.) Shop for a Phoenix-Chicago flight on Expedia and the cheapest flights that pop up are in basic economy. Ditto on airline websites if you search by price.

Basic economy is not a specific section on the plane like those premium economy seats some airlines sell with extra legroom and other perks. It’s simply a cheaper fare that comes with so many restrictions that critics call it third class or steerage. Southwest’s CEO has called it second class. 



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What you don’t – and do – get

Travelers with basic economy tickets don’t get to choose their seats when they book, even for a fee; can’t stow a carry-on in the overhead bin on American and United (Delta allows it); board last; and can’t make flight changes or request refunds.

They do get the same in-flight services and frequent-flier miles as other passengers and are allowed to check bags for the usual fees.

FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT: Basic economy: What it’s like in airlines’ cheapest seats

Basic economy fares were created to compete with bargain fares offered by rapidly growing no-frills carriers Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant airlines. On those airlines, passengers have come to expect a slew of restrictions, no perks and a pile of fees.

But bare-bones fares are new on major airlines so it’s buyer beware,…