United Introducing New Seat Assignment Fees and New Benefits for Corporate Travelers

Via Wandering Aramean United Airlines is making several changes to extract additional revenue from passengers, and to favor corporate travel customers in hopes of helping the airline’s sales team win more corporate deals through a new Corporate Preferred Program.

  • More seat assignment charges. They’re going to charge to assign coach seats which aren’t extra legroom seats but that are considered more desirable, for instance seats closer to the front of the plane.

    Customers already have to buy up from basic economy to be able to pre-assign seats. Starting in the fourth quarter more of those seats will require a further buy up in order to assign. This makes buying up from Basic Economy less attractive however many customers may not realize it immediately since the upsell is done a little bit at a time (first the buy up to regular economy, then the upcharge for seating).

    American Airlines already does this, but American is also eliminating their most draconian restriction on basic economy fares, the inability to bring a full-sized carry on bag onto the aircraft. So United is making themselves even more uncompetitive, as long as they retain the carry on bag restriction and charge for more seats for those who pay to avoid basic economy.

    Passengers whose companies qualify at the elite tier of Corporate Preferred can assign these seats for free. Update: anyone will be able to assign these seats free at check-in.

  • Corporate agreement will be an upgrade tie-breaker. This won’t come into play often but after status, fare class, and whether they’re a premium credit card holder a tie-breaker will be Corporate Preferred status. Corporate customers are more important than non-corporate customers.

  • Corporate customers get priority standby and reaccommodation. Corporate preferred status will also be a tie-breaker on the standby list, and corporate customers will get more flexible re-accommodation. Customers of companies doing significant business with United will see change fee waivers and flexibility to rebook to different destinations in the same state.

Here’s the new corporate status benefit matrix:

This is all good news for corporate customers, especially big customers of United. Outside of change fee and reaccommodation waivers, the benefits largely come at the expense of flyers who are not corporate customers. Luckily the extra juice corporate customers are getting here is very much at the margin, a Platinum member’s upgrade will still trump a Gold member for instance.

More seats that require a fee isn’t surprising, but it does make buying up from United’s uncompetitive basic economy that much less appealing. Non-corporate leisure customers should increasingly consider American, Delta, or Southwest.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Why is corporate status a tie breaker *after* retail credit card holders? A huge percentage of corporate travelers have to use the corporate card to book, and won’t necessarily have the United card as well. Given how infrequently this should come up anyways, seems like its an easy bone to throw to the corporate crowd

  2. For me, it makes an Economy+ subscription even more appealing. I’ve found it pays for itself after roughly three cross country round-trips.

  3. So is every seat but a middle in the back behind the exit rows going to have a fee?
    In a twisted way this makes BE more attractive because there is only so much people will pay to pick a seat. Buy out of BE to be able to pick a seat and then another few for that seat not to be a middle? Ridiculous.
    I’m 1.6 MM with UA and started flying Southwest when BE started. I assume a gold elite would be exempt from this new few …. yet again reading about this makes me glad to have moved most of my business elsewhere. Too complicated. Too much BS.

  4. Of course, now that he destroyed American, it was only a matter of time that Scott Kirby moved on to destroying United.

    Oh, well, most of our flights are on Delta, Southwest or Jetblue in that order. American is a long ago never, with United now about to join them with these ridiculous pricing strategies.

    Not a chance I’d buy up from BE, only to face yet another fee for a window or aisle seat.

    Not a chance. As in NO ‘EFFING’ WAY.

    There’s really not much left to choose from beyond flying the fewer and fewer least worst airlines now, and United just took a big turn for the worse to join American at the absolute bottom.

    When they’re that bad, then seek the least worst.

    And if that fails, just fly the worst airlines that are at least cheaper like Spirit or Frontier (Allegiant is a never, ever fly for us and our loved ones).

    Bye, United – or rather, Bye Felicia!

  5. Ugh, f*ck everything about Scott Kirby. No doubt this is his doing. The guy seriously needs to retire, he ruins everything he touches.

  6. I don’t know what everyone is screaming about. Delta already does this by marking half the seats in the plane as “premium.”

  7. +1 Howard Miller’s feelings about United. Just dreadful.

    Just another reason so avoid aviation travel whenever possible.

  8. Sorry I can’t determine from the article if you buy regular economy (not basic), will you still have to pay for seat closer up front that’s not economy plus?

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