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American Turns Cheapest Seats Into Big Draw Amid Virus

  • Basic Economy passengers spur ticket sales, carrier says
  • Under-30 travelers emerge as rare source of demand for flights
An American Airlines Boeing jet takes off at Ronald Reagan National Airport.

An American Airlines Boeing jet takes off at Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Corrected

American Airlines Group Inc. introduced its cheapest fare class in 2017 to coax a few travelers away from budget carriers. These days, such no-frills tickets are becoming a mainstay of the company’s efforts to fill its planes.

During a brief uptick in travel in June, about two-thirds of customers weren’t enrolled in American’s loyalty program, indicating they probably weren’t repeat travelers, Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja said. As many as 85% of that group bought so-called Basic Economy fares, he said. Since then, such bare-bones tickets have continued to account for a majority of customers, who also are under 30.

The rare pocket of demand offers a modest lifeline as airlines grasp for ways to soften a travel collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic. With budget-conscious younger customers more willing to fly than the business travelers American has traditionally targeted, the airline is sweetening its lowest-end offerings and trying to use them as a way to jump-start sales.