United Sells Economy Plus at Time of Booking

I noticed on One Mile at a Time yesterday that United has quietly started allowing people to upgrade to Economy Plus at the time of booking. Great idea. In fact, I almost thought about giving them a gold star, but not quite. While it’s a good idea, I have some issues with the way they’re doing this.

Don’t get me wrong, this is the right thing to do. If someone wants to pay more up front to sit in Economy Plus, why would United want to turn down that revenue opportunity? They shouldn’t, and they’ve now fixed that problem. BUT, looking at United’s page on the subject, I see that the pricing for the upgrade is the same regardless of whether you do it at the time of booking or at the airport. The value, however, isn’t the same, and United needs to make an adjustment to account for that, otherwise they’re leaving money on the table and possibly angering their elite customers.

Economy Plus is primarily meant as a bonus for elite members, supposedly the airline’s best customers. When they sold the upgrade at the time of check-in, most elites would have already been seated in Economy Plus so it wouldn’t be a big deal. But now, if someone upgrades at the time of booking, it could be taking a seat away from a valuable elite member. I don’t know how often the Economy Plus cabin fills up completely, but this would certainly make that more likely to occur.

So, if United wants to sell an upgrade at the time of booking, they should charge more for it than for an upgrade at the airport because the potential loss of value for the elite customer who gets stuck in Economy Minus is increased. Also, having an Economy Plus seat secured at the time of booking is of greater value to the purchasing customer, so the price should be higher.

Also, it’s a little disappointing to see that all classes of service pay the same amount for the upgrade. When United stopped giving people booking full fare tickets access to Economy Plus, I thought it was completely ridiculous. Now, I would have thought they might have reconsidered. If you paid that much money for a ticket, I think that access to Economy Plus is only fair. It should at least be discounted for the handful of non-elites who actually buy those fares, but it isn’t.

So . . . good idea, United, but you’re leaving money on the table and possibly angering your elite customers. Maybe some tweaking on the execution side would be a good idea.

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