When I met with United management in Chicago two years ago, I was told that they were really excited about the potential for offering bundles when the new website rolled out. The roll-out may have been delayed, but now that it’s there, the airline has begun testing those bundles publicly. Interestingly, United is branding them using the Economy Plus name. Economy Plus is now going to mean more than just extra legroom.
I can’t quite figure out which routes have it and which ones don’t, but someone in this FlyerTalk thread mentioned that they found it on Newark to Minneapolis, so that’s where I started. I picked a random date, March 9, and this was how the flight results showed up.
This looks normal, so far. You can see the cheapest coach fare, stupidly expensive flexible coach fare, and the lowest First Class fare. Click on that cheap coach fare or the flexible coach fare and it brings up some other options.
Now I know that United was particularly interested in having huge flexibility in how it packaged benefits and how it priced them. In other words, it wanted to have dynamic pricing with bundle options varying by traveler. None of this appears to be happening so far. Presumably this is just how United is testing this right now and options are going to change as data gets analyzed.
That being said, it’s still really interesting to see how United is pricing this. On this particular flight at the time I looked, Economy Plus seats as a standalone were going for $63 to $73 per seat. The $63 rate was for middles, and it went up from there.
The cheaper bundle for “Economy Plus Essentials” is $88 and it provides any Economy Plus seat as well as a checked bag. Since the bag is normally $25, if you were going to pay for a middle seat in Economy Plus, the bundle price would be the same as buying a la carte. If you wanted to sit in one of the other seats, you’d save up to $10 by bundling.
The more expensive bundle is “Economy Plus Enhanced” and that’s $94 more than the lower bundle. This of course includes Economy Plus seating and a checked bag, but what else?
- Premier Access so you get priority check-in, security, and boarding
- United Club trip pass
- Extra award miles
Premier Access is being sold for $57 on its own, which already seems absurdly expensive to me. But United has the data, so it probably knows better than I. Then there’s the club pass. That’s $50. If you really wanted all these pieces, then this bundle would be a good money-saver. I just have a hard time believing people want all that. Personally, I can see buying the Essentials bundle, but I would never consider the Enhanced bundle.
And that, of course, is fine. Eventually, if United does what it says, it’s going to learn what people want and adjust on the fly. So far, this is very crude. I searched both not logged in and logged in as a 1K. The pricing was the same. If 1Ks spend this much when they already get most of the benefits, they’re idiots. United can’t seriously want to market this to 1Ks. It’s just a matter of time before this gets more sophisticated.
In general, I like this idea. The bundles can provide real benefit, and moving them further up into the process makes buying a ticket a more transparent process for the customer. I just wish it was moved up even further.
I do like how American shows you its bundles on the flight results page, one step earlier than United. That being said, I find United’s bundles more compelling. Yes, American does have the free change fee option, but including the extra legroom seating, as United has done, is much more useful to most people.
From what I can tell, travel agents can’t sell this since, unlike how American and JetBlue have done bundling, this isn’t part of a filed fare. That’s annoying, but it does allow United to avoid paying taxes. Hopefully the functionality will eventually make its way into travel agent systems, but that’ll take years I’m sure.
This whole bundling thing is new to United, and it’s only going to get more relevant as time goes on.