Why Exactly Did United End E-fare Emails?

Distribution, Technology, United

According to Today in the Sky, United is no United's New (Fake) Motto?longer going to send E-fare emails to its customers. E-fares, the ones that are for last minute weekend travel, will still be around on the United website, but they just won’t proactively tell you about them anymore. So what’s up with the customer unfriendly policy? I’m guessing it’s related to United’s new corporate motto, “If it’s broke, don’t fix it.”

I don’t get the E-fare emails from many airlines anymore, or if I do, I just delete them, so I don’t know the state of United’s emails. But there is really no good excuse for removing customer notification for a program that isn’t going away. Here’s how I imagine the conversation going over at United.

Marketeer #1: We’ve got a problem.
Marketeer #2: Just one? So we’re getting better?

Marketeer #1: Very funny. You know those E-fare emails? They don’t work well. We don’t send people the information they want, and it’s an expensive/inefficient system.
Marketeer #2: Hmm, well if it’s a bad experience, we should fix it.

Marketeer #1: Nah, that takes effort. Instead, I think we’ll just stop sending the emails. Then it won’t be bad anymore!
Marketeer #2: But, um, then won’t people have an even worse experience by having to search for the E-fares each week?

Marketeer #1: I’m sorry . . . did you say something?

I can fully understand if United wanted to ditch this program entirely. I mean, these last minute fares have been around for a long time and they likely aren’t generating a huge amount business. But if you’re going to keep the program, you’d think that United would want to at least make it user-friendly.


Updated on 3/12 @ 944a – United Spokesperson Robin Urbanski sent me a note saying the following. “They were discontinued because customers have asked us to reduce the frequency of emails and most go to united.com to find and book our special deals, including e-fares.”

So that appears to be the official stance, but I’ve heard differently from others.

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27 comments on “Why Exactly Did United End E-fare Emails?

  1. Cranky…you have been around long enough to know that “United” and ‘user-friendly’ in the same sentence is an oxymoron.

  2. Good riddance. I at least used to get those emails from AA and NW. Mostly garbage flights to places I don’t want to go, or fares that really aren’t anything to write home about…or, I’d have to fly on Thursday and take a whole day of vacation. Most budget travelers are already going to websites like Orbitz and Travelocity looking for weekend deals anyway. This is something I don’t think United is wrong about.

  3. Response rate to these emails can be measured in many ways.
    1) Click-through rate – i.e.how many visit the website propted by these emails.
    2) Weekend purchase rate – i.e. how many of these last minute tickets get sold purely from these emails, and how many would have been sold anyway.
    3) Other ticket purchase rate – i.e. email lures you to visit the website, but you end up buying a different ticket instead

    Do you have a rough idea as to the response rate generated in all 3 categories by these emails ?

    An alternative theory is that United feel they can’t ditch the program entirely because competitors will use it against them, but they just want to hide it away a bit – with a view to killing it off later.

  4. David – I would argue that the only thing that matters from these emails is #2. And while I used to know the numbers when I worked in the industry years ago, I don’t know what they are now. This isn’t a big program, and that’s why I would imagine that simply ditching it entirely would be fine. Still want to offer low last minute fares? Fine. Just offer them and not call them “E-fares” and let people find them through other methods. But if you’re going to have the program, you should give people the option to receive relevant emails for flights from their home airport. Otherwise, the program will just shrink further.

  5. Hmmm. When I saw the title of today’s post in my RSS feed, I thought I’d get some insight into the reasoning behind this change. But really, all you (can) offer is speculation mixed in with a bit of United bashing. Not quite what I was expecting.

    I am (was, I guess) subscribed to these emails from UA and rarely looked at them, because I rarely have the flexibility of making last minute travel plans. And when I did look at them, there often wasn’t an appealing offer (certainly cheaper offers than regular last-minute fares, but again I tend to buy in advance). But I don’t really recall the messages to have been broken.

  6. Sadly, another UA program poorly handled. Remember its Silver Wings for seniors program. Kaput!

    I wrote UA a number of times about its E-Fare program, citing the rigidity of days, its unimaginative city-pair selections, and the fact the fares weren’t always the lowest they were offering for seats that I was led to believe we’re going to go out empty. I asked whether any thought, any thought at all went into the choices of cities offered from week-to-week. Certainly, they could have offered these fares to all sorts of people like me, elite UA fliers, to whom specific origins-destinations, spur of the moment travel is appealing. But, nothing!

    I second that UA just drop the name “E-Fare” and move on..

  7. E-fares emails stopped being useful to me years ago. I was perhaps more likely to take some last minute trip based on an emailed airfare in my younger days. If I have a last minute travel need, then I’ll search kayak..maybe fly.com! and the other usual suspects.

  8. I have mixed feelings about this issue. On one hand, I’ve received UA e-fares emails forever and have seen the program slowly erode into a joke. You never see great deals in there anymore and the O&D pairs are almost always the same (from SFO every weekend there are screaming deals to places like Fresno, Bakersfield, and Monterrey!). But at least once a week I thought about UA and considered the idea of taking a spontaneous getaway — not a bad thing. I’m not sure why UA would want me to think of them less frequently, especially when I’ve requested the email and can easily opt out of it in the future. Bizarre.

    If they really wanted to cut down on emails, as they say, then they’d stop spamming me about their dining program. UA, AA, and DL are all guilty of this lately… am I the only one who is getting sick of all the bait-and-switch emails that have subject lines like “An important update about your Aadvantage account” only to open it and see it’s an offer to get 500 bonus miles if I dine 3 times in the next 2 weeks?! That’s getting ridiculous and if UA wants to cut down on the chatter, that’s where they should focus.

    But back to the UA’s e-fares. If they are now going to rely on people going to united.com to search for the fares, I hope they will at least fix the site. When click the international tab on the e-fares page, I’ve been getting a red error message the last 6 or so months. I don’t know if UA has ended international e-fares altogether — if so, remove the tab; if not, why display an error? The error says “We are unable to search based on the information provided. Please revise the entries in red below.
    Change departure city: ” and then you see the dropdown where I’ve selected SFO. Why not just say “no international e-fares available from SFO” if that’s the case?

  9. My motto is: “Never make it hard for someone to give you money.”

    That should mean providing your eFares:
    a] as a customized email (with your desired routes, or at least home airport, when they go on sale), if a customer wants it.
    b] with an RSS feed on your website, if a customer wants it.
    c] on your website thru searches

  10. Why do the airlines do something and then say it’s what their customers ask for. If people didn’t want the emails just delete them like I do with out even opening it, or opt out if you don’t want to get them anymore.

    Sounds like this way UA doesn’t have to pay people to maintain the email system that generates these emails. And by having people searching their web site there is a chance people will just book something at the regular price or click on some ad about something else.

    If UA was really making money on these emails they wouldn’t stop them, but send out more.

  11. Yet another example of why we should be writing our senators and representatives and demanding the airline industry be re-regulated. Fares will be cheaper once re-regulation occurs. Airlines will lose the ability to change fares at whim. Think of the other things you can do with the weeks of searching you have to do for a decent fare under the current deregulation scheme. Imagine: airlines, in order to change fares, would have to apply to an administrative agency that is politically accountable to Congress and constituencies it represents. The public good will be bolstered enormously. So write your representatives and senators. Demand airlines be thoroughly re-regulated. The sooner, the better.

  12. Scott – I would agree that the Dining and other promo emails are far more annoying, but of course, those are the money makers so they’ll keep sending that spam out.

    Lewis Lipps – Sad to tell you that history proves the opposite is true. Under regulation, fares were far higher than they are today. You will only end up with higher fares under that scenario.

  13. It won’t be popular here, but I really think that UA is right.

    I’m a 1K MM flyer and I look forward to not receiving those emails in future.
    Now if I could only get CO to stop sending theirs to me…

  14. History proves under regulation, cheaper air fares and better service result. Under regulation, there was none of this marketing nonsense harming the public good prevailing under this nonsense deregulated scheme. Don’t be deceived by unsubstantiated claims of cheaper fares under deregulation. They are outright lies, and damned lies. Forty years of regulation produced a superb airline system dismantled beginning with the Lorenzo and Icahn ilk, and continuing up through this Delta/Northwest merger. Enough of airlines’ “we do whatever we want” attitude. Write your senators and representatives and demand that the public good be put to the fore again. Demand that the airlines be fully reregulated. The sooner, the better. A better flying experience will be had by all.

  15. Lewis – I’m not sure what “history” there is that proves regulation has cheaper fares. In the United States, that has been far from true. Fares are now far lower than they were during regulation, and I have yet to see anyone refute that point. If you have proof, please post it here, because I just don’t believe it. Now regarding service levels, sure, those have declined as fares have declined.

  16. CF, I’m not sure what “history” there is that doesn’t prove regulation provides cheaper fares. In the United States, that has been extremely true. Fares and lack of service are now far higher than during regulation, and I have a plethora of sources providing evidence substantiating that point. If you have proof fares are lower under deregulation, please post it here, because the traveling public knows that’s a lie. No one cares what you believe. Santa Claus might agree fares are lower under deregulation, but then again it makes sense that a figment would believe in fiction. Travelers, write your Congressman and senators, and demand airlines be stripped of their ability to change fares and city-pair service at their (not the traveling public’s) whim. Cheaper fares and better service will follow. Enough is enough. Write your Legislators. Demand reform. The sooner the better.

  17. Lewis – Generally if you’re going to come on to someone else’s blog and make a claim that goes against conventional wisdom, it would be helpful if you could supply proof supporting your claim. So please, post your proof here. Until that time, I’ll be happy to supply you with plenty of proof showing otherwise:

    1) The ATA provides passenger yield (total fares/total passenger miles flown) for every year since 1926. Looking at the domestic system’s inflation-adjusted yields, it never went below 10 cents per mile until 1971. Between 1971 and 1978, when regulations were eased to allow for innovations such as “Peanut Fares,” yields stayed in the 9 cent range. In 1978, the year the industry was regulated, yields dipped to 8.49 cents. It stayed fairly steady for the first few years of deregulation but by the mid 1980s, prices were plunging. Most of the 1990s were in the 5 to 6 cent range. The 2000s dipped into the 4 cent range, and we saw our lowest yield yet at 4.08 cents in 2007.

    2) If you’d like something a little more tangible, here is a TWA timetable from 1962. A roundtrip fare from LA to New York was $290.20 on a jet or $224.90 on a multi-stop prop flight. Adjusted for inflation, that is roughly $2,000 and $1,500 respectively in today’s dollars.

    Not happy with just looking at long hauls? Short hauls were much more competitive, but they still weren’t any great deal. That same TWA timetable shows a roundtrip on the 235 mile run from Detroit to Chicago at $30.50 roundtrip. That’s more than $200 in today’s currency. With a week’s notice, you can fly that route for half that price today.

    Your turn.

  18. Conventional wisdom is that airlines need regulation to stop them from trampling over the public good, it is not conventional wisdom deregulation is good. Readers, we are consumers. We care about the $$$ we pay for fares; yields, passenger miles are irrelevant and meaningless, unless you blog as a shill on behalf of the Air Transport Association. Such numbers live in the realm of persons at the airlines poring over computers and constantly changing fares intending to sell every seat as high as possible, in violation of the public good. Readers, don’t be fooled by nonsense statistics. CF masterfully omits the lack of restrictions an airline can have on the number of seats sold at that “deregulated” price, it certainly won’t be the 150-200 seats. Don’t be fooled by nonsense statistics. Anyone can lie with statistics. But don’t be fooled.

    Be thoughtful. Rely on your own experiences of outsourced and rude reservations agents, filthy cabins, flagrant disregard of the Contracts of Carriage, “Bereavement fares” that are actually the same as regular fares, steadily multiplying fees and “unbundling”(which is in effect charging twice for the same item; CF will agree nothing is free), penalties for fare changes, rude airline employees empowered by CEOs to bully or threaten you, systematic inconveniences, and on the anecdotal experiences of your friends and neighbors. You can’t do “whatever you want” as you move about your life. Why should an airline (or any other artificial person for that matter) be allowed to do so? CF wants to focus on inflation adjusted costs while pretending every seat on every flight is available at the advertised discount fare. Not true. But then again, if the ATA was my boss, I would spout that line, too.

    Stop the madness. Demand reform. Enough is enough. Write your Senators and Representatives and demand full, strict regulation of all airline operations in the United States. Especially their ability to change fares and flight schedules. You will save money and enjoy a better flying experience. The airlines will be accountable to you instead of them bullying you. Write your legislators and demand reform. The sooner the better.

    Take it away, CF.

  19. Lewis – As much fun as this has been, this will be my last response. It is very difficult to have a constructive discussion with someone who refuses to cite facts and continues to muddle his argument with irrelevant points. So, you’re welcome to have the last word if you so choose (which undoubtedly will tell us to write our legislators and demand reform), but I won’t be responding again beyond this post.

    The discussion was centered around whether fares would be lower under regulation. You introduce several points about service levels which I find to be irrelevant to this particular discussion. If you don’t count convenience of having more flights as part of the service level calculation, then I agree that service levels have gone down since deregulation. So let’s stop wasting our time on this point.

    You claim that not everyone pays the lowest fares, and you’re right. But I never claimed that, nor did the data. These numbers are macro numbers, so it’s an average, meaning that many will pay even less while many will pay more. But the specific examples I gave you make it quite clear that airfares have gone down regardless, especially on longer flights.

    Despite your misinformed allegations, I have no connection with the ATA. But I can certainly understand your attempt to make that connection since it’s the only way you can refute actual facts as presented. So let’s forget about the ATA. Since you seem to think the government will be able to bring us all cheap fares via regulation, let’s use their information instead.

    Here’s a GAO report from 1996 (PDF) that says the same basic thing as the ATA but with more detail. When this was written in 1996, low fare carrier penetration was far lower than it is today, so the impact of lower fares should be more widespread now. Yes, some communities have higher fares, but those are the small communities that can barely justify service at all without regulation. In fact, the DOT funding of service to many small cities via Essential Air Service actually shows higher fares under this quasi-regulatory scheme.

    Or better yet, here’s a 1999 paper from the DOT (PDF) that largely warns about some of the perils of deregulation. But despite the topic, it still says, “Average airfares, adjusted for inflation, have declined since 1978. Passenger traffic has more than doubled and competition has led to the innovation and efficiency that caused the continued decline in average real fares.” Again, as did the GAO, this report points to short distance flying from small communities as being the area where airfares have risen, but overall, that’s fares are lower.

    The bottom line is that on the whole, deregulation has lowered airfares nationwide. The larger argument of whether regulation should return or not is far more complicated than this discussion. But the basic statement that airfares are lower under regulation has been proven false by several sources I have provided, including the US government.

    Until you can produce a credible source saying otherwise, there really is no reason to continue this discussion.

  20. Phil – That’s always a possibility. I assume this is just someone with an agenda, regardless of facts, who goes around trying to provoke bloggers and get air time. He’s tried it at Tripso and he’s done the same at Flying with Fish. I’m sure he’s done it elsewhere.

    So he’s just trying to get a platform for himself, and that’s fine. As a blog that only deletes spam, I’m happy to let anyone be heard, but I will eagerly argue points with which I disagree. So now he’s made his points hoping that people will listen to him, but all I can do (since I won’t censor these things) is to refute them and hope that people can get the whole story if they read the comments here.

    At the very least, I came across some interesting links throughout this process!

  21. Loose lips is just wasting all of our time. CF does an outstanding job and is not a shill for the airlines. But, we all knew that. I’m still waiting for Lewis Lipps to show us his even ONE source from his “plethora of sources”.

  22. Well, that says it all. Readers, don’t believe the distortions you hear about lower “average” fares under deregulation. Use your critical thinking skills and investigate for yourself in deciding whether you should have more control over air transport policy in the United States. You don’t have to be hostage to anti-public good agendas and viewpoints. Stop being bullied by airlines and their stockholders (and shill bloggers). Air travel does not have to hurt. Airlines insist that it should. You as a participant in our Democracy, have the right to demand that the airlines be held to account, especially since they serve the public good, and not the other way around. Some bloggers are psychic. Write your senators and representative readers. Demand reform. You are just as entitled to a reasonably convenient airline system as persons whose tickets are comped and have an anti-consumer agenda. You do not have to tolerate the status quo when it comes to air travel. That’s the essence of our representative democracy. The airlines should be serving instead of brutalizing you, the consumer.

    End airline abuses of the flying public. Write your senators and representatives and demand the airlines be fully re-regulated to the fullest extent of the law. Let them answer to you. The sooner you write and demand reform, the sooner America’s air transportation utility can get back to what it should have never been allowed to stop doing: serving the public good.

  23. At the risk of posting a comment relevant to the original post…

    @Wonko Beeblebrox: Excellent points about the utility of e-fare alerts that only show departures from my home airport (which United already knows from my MP profile) and that are available via RSS. But do any other airlines do either of those things?

  24. Rob – Thanks for bringing us back to the topic at hand. I don’t receive Delta’s email alerts, but I can tell you that they do ask you for your home airport. Presumably they actually use that, though I’m sure someone else can confirm.

    I also know that American, Continental, and Delta all offer their deals via RSS. But I don’t believe that any of them offer RSS feeds for your home airport – it’s more of a general thing.

  25. Rob – BTW, I think it’s quite interesting that Southwest doesn’t appear to have RSS feeds for its specials. JetBlue doesn’t appear to have anything either. (I don’t even see email specials for them.) Am I missing something? You would think that those two would be more advanced.

    Lewis – If you continue to post the same thing over and over, I will begin deleting your comments because they will be considered spam.

  26. “customers have asked us to reduce the frequency of emails”. Customers have also asked many times for United to reduce the frequency they sell their customers information to Chase and receive offers for credit cards. I receive at least two offers every month, which is much more annoying than these e-mails. Will United allow customers to opt out of this easily? No, it makes them money. Another example of the stupidity on Wacker Drive.

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