Just this week, United quietly started filing a handful of fares that include Economy Plus seating in the Newark to Ft Lauderdale market. The fares are pretty terrible right now, and they aren’t showing on the website just yet, so this is clearly a very preliminary test. If this does become the norm, United will once again find itself following Delta’s lead.
Today, United sells tickets including a regular seat assignment when available, but if you want to buy an extra legroom Economy Plus seat, you have to buy it as an add-on. That can happen during the purchase process or at any time before travel. When you go to United.com, it looks something like this:
Then when you pick your flight, United gives you a bundle option on the next page:
I’d never really examined this upsell before, but it is a terrible value. The price seems to have been set at $1 below the most expensive Economy Plus seat. On this flight, that lousy exit row middle seat is running $89. Every other Economy Plus seat (many of which are better than a middle seat) are cheaper. So you should skip this, and when you do, you’ll go to the seat map where you can choose to add-on an individual seat:
This particular flight was for June 25. I picked that day because United’s new Economy Plus fares appear to be limited to 14 day advance purchase or higher, and it was June 11 when I first tested this. When I price the regular fare in Sabre, I get the same fare as I got on United.com:
But, if I use the new “EP” brand code, it gives me this Economy Plus option:
Of course, this fare is even worse than United’s upsell with a $114 premium. So why would anyone buy this? Well, there may be a reason for a corporate traveler. If a company won’t allow ancillary purchases to be expensed, then this could be a way for a traveler to still get the same seat without going out of pocket. (Then again, with 14 day advance purchase on these fares, it may have more limited appeal to corporates.) But if that’s how United is approaching this, corporates are going to find out quickly and be really mad that they’re getting fleeced. That’s why my thought is that this is really just a test, and those fares were set high on purpose.
The mechanics work similarly to how Basic Economy works. At United, Basic Economy fares book into N class but are also based on the lowest selling regular fare in the market. With Economy Plus, it books into B class but again relies on being a bump above the lowest selling regular fare. (This may be somewhat confusing since American actually uses B class for Basic Economy, but then again, how many people need to know that or even care? Not many.)
This brings up a ton of questions. I asked United for answers, but I unsurprisingly didn’t get any. Airlines don’t talk about future pricing for legal reasons.
- Does United plan on rolling this out to all markets or just a subset?
- Will United allow travelers to have the choice of buying Economy Plus in the fare or as an add-on? Or will United move toward the Delta model where it’s all in the fare?
- What does this mean for elite travelers? Will they now have to upgrade into Economy Plus the way that they upgrade in Business? There are lot of variations on this question.
I like the idea of having an Economy Plus fare because it would allow United to sell premium economy fares internationally — remember, the new true premium economy cabin is coming soon — that would include Economy Plus seats on a domestic leg. But I also like the ability to just pick a seat outside the fare.
Were I a betting man, I’d say that United will end up doing pretty much what Delta has done, but we’ll just have to wait until United decides it’s ready to start talking.