American Airlines offers low-fee fares — for a price

American Airlines offers low-fee fares -- for a price

(CNN) — American Airlines announced a new fare structure Wednesday, essentially bundling up many of the services and perks that airlines have been busy unbundling into separate line-item fees for several years.

The new system will give passengers the option to stick with the lowest fare available, called Choice, and pay a la carte for checked bags, preferred seating and other services and perks. For an additional $68 round-trip, a new Choice Essential option includes one checked bag, no change fees and priority boarding.

For $88, Choice Plus includes those three items, plus a 50% AA Advantage mileage bonus, same-day flight change or standby and a premium beverage.

“With our renewed customer focus, we’ve designed these choices around what our customers tell us will make their travel most enjoyable — more flexibility and benefits that give them the most ease and convenience,” said Rob Friedman, American’s vice president of marketing, in a statement.

The airline still offers business/first class fares as well as more expensive, fully refundable options in all fare categories. Frequent fliers will continue to receive their usual benefits, with enhancements to the new fare categories, such as a third checked bag for elite customers.

“It’s nothing new. Frontier has been doing exactly this type of program for several years,” said aviation consultant Mike Boyd via e-mail.

“It does remove anxiety — the passenger knows exactly what to expect when booking,” but the new structure may end up costing some passengers more for the same services, he said. He called American’s new program “more straitjacketed” than Frontier Airlines’ system.

George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog.com, sees the $68 fare add-on as a possible savings for passengers who are planning to check a bag anyway. A la carte, the checked bag would cost fliers $50 round-trip. “For $18 you get the safety net of being able to avoid that $150 change fee on a nonrefundable domestic fare,” he said.

Hobica said he expects other airlines will adopt this structure.

“I think it’s potentially a win, win, win,” he said, because the government can tax the higher fares (where ancillary fees are not taxable), consumers will be able to change their plans more affordably and the airline will draw more consumers to its website because the new structure isn’t currently available via third-party sites like Kayak.

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