It turns out that effective today, United is severely limiting access to seats in Economy Plus.
For those who don’t know, Economy Plus is exactly the same as Economy Minus on United except that it has more legroom and a couple other very minor differences. It’s like having a whole cabin of exit rows so you can stretch out, and that’s a nice bonus to have.
In the past, Economy Plus seating was available to a whole host of different people including:
- Elite members of United’s frequent flier program
- People who pay the annual fee for Economy Plus Access
- People who pay to upgrade at the time of check-in
- Silver and Gold members of other Star Alliance frequent flier programs (this includes US Airways elite members)
- Customers who buy an expensive coach fare in Y, B, M, E, or U class.
According to a briefing for reservations agents at the airline, the latter two groups no longer will have access to Economy Plus. For this, United gets the inaugural Cranky Jackass award.
Let’s forget about the fact that I’m elite on US Airways and therefore now lose access to Economy Plus. Let’s just look at this rationally.
The benefits of such a decision are that elite members of the United program now will have an easier time finding Economy Plus seats (though I’m not sure they ever had a hard time before). In addition, United has the potential to get some extra revenue from people who are willing to pay the upgrade fee, but how many people will do that?
My guess is not that many. If you bought one of those high coach fares, you’d probably be insulted that you would have to pay even more to sit in Economy Plus when United elite members who bought a rock bottom fare are already there. But if you’re elite on a parnter outside of the US, you may not have much of a choice . . . except for US Airways.
If US Airways is smart, they’ll make sure that all Silver and Gold Star alliance members have access to exit rows on their flights. That would be a much better product than sitting in United’s Economy Minus section, and it could shift business from United.
As for US Airways elites? Well, they’ll be much less likely to fly United now. Transatlantic or transpacific flights might go on other partners since the legroom can’t be worse than United’s Economy Minus. Domestically, it would probably be worth connecting on US Airways instead of taking a nonstop on United just so that you can get an exit row and possibly a first class upgrade if available.
I really have a hard time seeing how this move will be revenue positive for United. If anything, it just alienates members of partner frequent flier programs. What is the point of an alliance if you don’t get the same fair treatment across all programs?