United Morphs Economy Plus Into More Than Just Extra Legroom


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.

United Fare Search Results

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.

United Economy Plus Bundles

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.

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26 comments on “United Morphs Economy Plus Into More Than Just Extra Legroom

  1. Unless I’m missing something from those screen grabs, it looks like the cheapest ticket in F is about the same price as the economy+ seat alone. Seems like F would be a much better deal.

    1. That was my thought as well. The economy plus is getting awfully close to domestic F. Maybe the hidden intent is to sell those seats up front and give those with status the economy plus seats for free?

      I do like the idea of throwing in the lounge pass. That costs the airline what? Pretty much zero. While I wouldn’t pony up on a direct from EWR-MSP it would be something I’d consider if I had a long layover at a busy hub.

    2. I’m guessing what we’re seeing is beta pricing where they haven’t worked all the kinks out of the algorithm. Because yeah, no way I’m paying more for E+ than for F, even before my first cup of coffee in the morning :)

  2. The F ticket is $79 more then the cheapest coach. Cheaper than the first level upgrade. And $79 in F is something I would actually pay for, as opposed to $88 for a E+ seat.

    i rarely find myself in an airport early enough before a flight to use a lounge.

    Cranky, can you talk about UA and the fact that UA and CO FAs still have to fly their own metal?

    1. I don’t really think there’s much to the UA/CO split. The FA’s are still on separate contracts and not allowed to mix crews. Obviously this is something that should’ve been worked out 4 years ago but whatever, planes are still flying. What I think is interesting is how the CO group was able to hire new flight attendants while UA was furloughing some and offering early out packages at the same time. Maybe its just me but I’ve noticed the UA FL’s becoming nicer and the CO ones becoming grumpier. As I type that, I realize its probably just me.

    2. Yes they are still split. Until a joint contract is set and ratified, they are still flying their own metals.

    3. Jeremy – As others have said, there’s not much to it. The two workgroups remain separate. Depending upon who you ask, you’ll hear different people taking the blame, but I see the union leadership on the United side as being a huge hindrance to the process. From a customer standpoint, it shouldn’t really make a difference.

  3. Now they are selling Premier Access, so that is a spite to those who actually earn it. So now we can assume longer lines, people who don’t know how to navigate a check point delaying us with the 18oz bottles of shampoo and too many carry ons. The hotels have done the same thing. I have had several issues with Marriott over selling the success to the Concierge Lounges, and when you go there are people with 6 kids sitting at the better tables and using the computers for video games, and telling the kids “get another soda we already paid for that”…..

    1. Sorry to break it to you, but they’ve been selling it for quite some time through the Explorer credit card.

      1. That to me is one of the biggest perks of being 1K with UA (Well Platinum and 1K/GS) board in Group 1. Group 2 is awful, when I was Silver & Gold it was almost not worth it unless you were one of those people who stood in line 45 mins before the flight. I admit, I am one of those people.

        As a 1K none of this interests me, but I do think it is just a beginning to some bigger changes if the test goes well.

  4. No one ever mentions the cost of my time researching all the different bundles, on all the different airlines for just a one way flight. That costs money too. Then I have to come home. All that wasted time and the aggravation make me want to take that extra time to drive my auto and enjoy the USA, of course I can’t do that on International flights. I miss the old days when I just booked a flight and went. If I live long enough maybe I can take a drone.  Connie

  5. Seems the airlines want to get into the fast food burger business selling the #1 combo, the #2 combo, etc

  6. Brett,

    I wonder if the Enhanced bundle is just a dummy to get more people to trade up to the Essentials bundle…

    Reminds me of a story about a conversation between a consumer and the manager of a wine store. The consumer pointed to fancy bottle on display, one that had a spotlight on it and a prominent $500 price tag.

    “How many of those bottles have you sold?”, the customer asked the manager.

    “Not a single one in the past ten years,” the manager responded. Then he smiled and said, “But I sell a case a day of the $50 bottles right below that one.”

    People tend to choose the middle option, and you see the same thing on restaurant menus that are designed to maximize profit… Highlight the 12oz steak to get people to trade up from the 10oz steak, but also have a 16oz steak so that the 12oz looks cheaper by comparison.

    1. Kilroy – That could certainly be a part of it. That’s a very real and often-used pricing strategy in a lot of industries. But I think United does want to sell the top bundle. And it is selling that at a discount to buying the pieces individually.

  7. Can someone draw me a flowchart? All these options on the various airlines pricing schemes is causing me to think about college calculus classes and the visions of that mess.

  8. So. Darn. Complicated.

    So many classes. So many cabins. And sub-cabins. And bundles. And services. And add-ons.

    I mean, I’m DL Diamond and it’s sometimes still bewildering to me on the DL site which way to book. And they don’t even have bundles.

    I would say they know what they’re doing because they have the data, but really, do they?

  9. I was just booking ORD-YVR-PHX-ORD and on the page right before purchasing the flight I have access to the different options:

    +$90 for Economy Plus Essential
    +$198 for Economy Plus Enhanced

    N/A – Flying Air Canada

    +$90 for Economy Plus Essential
    +$154 for Economy Plus Enhanced

    Since I’m 1K (Star Alliance Gold) and flying to Canada (“International”), I’ll already have access to the United Club & Maple Leaf Lounges, plus UA routes to Canada are usually easy upgrades even for Golds. I’m not sure why those options even show up for Elites. It didn’t add any extra PQM’s or general miles to any of the segments either. This is interesting. I’m looking forward (or maybe not) to seeing what comes of all this.

  10. Perhaps this is a way for legacy carriers to broaden their appeal to affluent flyers who don’t fly enough or aren’t willing to do all their flying with one alliance to get elite status.
    I assume in most cases the difference between first class and upgraded economy is still significant. So, yes, people will pay for more legroom and some will pay a premium to be confident that they can board early enough to get their large carryon over their seat rather than diverted to luggage or the back of the plane where it will take extra time to retrieve and could conceivably be gone into by another passenger.

  11. I have no doubt once a few people figure out what the various bundles include, UA will offer more and more.

    “Economy Plus Essentials,” “Economy Plus Enhanced,” and surely, “Economy Plus Essentials Plus,” and “Economy Plus Enhanced Plus,” and on and on.

    I waited months for the new website to see how they would describe their various flight types. Used to be “nonstop” and flights “with stops, but the new version makes all “flights with stops ” a new type called “1-stop.” Actually, 99 percent of these 1-stops are “connections” but UA does not use that word in marketing. They involve plane-changes en route, but that is more information than customers deserve to know.

    And then who is operating the flight? DOT, I guess, said you have to name a company if you are not going to operate it yourself, so UA, for its “operated” by 1-stops, simply showed something like for LAS to IAD, “operated by SkyWest,” keeping you wondering if SkyWest was going to operate the entire LAS-SFO-IAD itinerary. Somehow, UA decided to add “includes service by…” but you have to go to another screen to figure exactly what part is being operated by the regional.

    UA lives by the motto “keep the customer guessing. They do it very well, unless you are a customer.

    1. You hit it for sure. Just when I was figuring out the difference between fares and dappling in “expert mode” on UA’s website. It’s so convoluted anymore. I fly 120+ segments a year and just want to book a flight from A-Z.. Maybe we should go back to relying on travel agents, lol.

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