United Furthers Trend to Offer Elite Benefits to Everyone Else

Ah the life of an elite member on United. No fees, special lines, and free upgrades to Economy Plus. It may seem like a fair reward for devoting your business to United, but the airline continues to devalue elite benefits. Now, the difference between being Premier and being Joe Schmo is becoming blurred further by allowing anyone to buy access to elite lines starting at $25.

Dennis Cary, SVP, CMO, COO, and undoubtedly owner of some other TLAs as well, correctly says “When we asked our customers what travel services are most important to them, they told us that access to priority lines was something they value highly.” It’s absolutely true that they are considered valuable, and that’s why they’re reserved for elite members. Now, United is opening it up to “a limited number of customers each hour based on time of departure” and that has me shaking my head.

Sure, people want access to the priority lines, and that’s one reason why people strive for elite status. Now, United is saying that nothing is sacred, and anything elites can get, you can buy on your own. There are two reasons why I think this is a bad idea.
Anyone Can Get United Elite Benefits
First, you clog up the elite lines with even more people. It used to be that getting elite status wasn’t the easiest thing around, and upgrades were easier to get. Now, it’s really not that tough to become a Premier, and often half the plane is full of “elite” members. (I use the quotes because they aren’t so elite anymore.) Now you add even more people and you end up clogging up the line further. This is effectively United competing with CLEAR, but instead of an annual subscription, you pay per play. It just means more people will use the lines degrading the experience for the elite member.

Second and possibly more importantly, you make becoming an elite less worthwhile as well. Getting priority lines used to be a big deal for elites, and it made people strive for that status. Now if you can just pay for it when you travel, you can be much smarter about it. Chances are you aren’t always traveling at peak times, so you can save your payment for only those times when the regular lines are bad. The cost savings you can get by diversifying your flying to other airlines that are likely less costly will easily pay for the few times you need to pay for the elite line pass.

It’s entirely possible that regular passengers won’t find it worthwhile to buy up here, and if that’s the case, then the first case won’t happen. But we know elite passengers find it valuable, and if this makes it easier for them to break the bonds of loyalty, then it’s not a good move.

Bottom line: While I could previously not get any of these benefits without becoming elite, I now have no real reason to do so except to get fees waived.

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