New United Airlines Fares Treat Economy Plus as a Separate Cabin

Delta treats their extra legroom (“Comfort+”) coach seats as a separate cabin. They have their own fares customers can buy. And elites don’t get ‘free Comfort+ seat selection’ instead they get upgraded into the extra legroom section of the plane.

This gets messy on several levels. Elites who have an aisle seat in regular coach and don’t want to be ‘upgraded into’ an Extra Legroom middle have to make that preference known. And Gold elites no longer get free upgrades into Comfort+ seats at time of booking. Since these are upgrades, as well, they can be capacity controlled.

United has now done something that seems like it could be following Delta’s model. They’ve filed Economy Plus fares that treat their extra legroom seats as a separate cabin. These fares come with free Economy Plus seat assignments, rather than paying extra for extra legroom seats.

These fares were filed on Monday with no announcement from United. They haven’t been officially rolled out, in the sense that you cannot search for Economy Plus fares at United.com – however if you going through a search and specify you want to book into B class, these will generally be the lowest B fares. (They’re premium economy fares that book into B on non-premium economy equipped aircraft.)

These appear to be available at least for:

  • Los Angeles – Chicago
  • Los Angeles – Newark
  • San Francisco – Newark
  • Newark – Chicago

Fare rules are clear that these are Economy Plus fares.

NOTE – THE FOLLOWING TEXT IS INFORMATIONAL AND NOT
VALIDATED FOR AUTOPRICING.
ECONOMY PLUS OW/RT
APPLICATION
CLASS OF SERVICE
THESE FARES APPLY FOR ECONOMY CLASS SERVICE.
TYPES OF TRANSPORTATION
THIS RULE GOVERNS ONE-WAY AND ROUND-TRIP FARES.
FARES GOVERNED BY THIS RULE CAN BE USED TO CREATE
ONE-WAY/ROUND-TRIP/CIRCLE-TRIP/OPEN-JAW JOURNEYS.
CAPACITY LIMITATIONS
SEATS ARE LIMITED.

Economy Plus fares appear to have a specific price increment over the lowest economy fare available at the time. Buying these fares could be advantageous to non-elite business travelers whose employers will reimburse a ticket but not a seat selection fee.

A United spokesperson offers this comment,

We’re running a very limited test in a small number of markets that displays EconomyPlus as a booking option during shopping to allow customers to easily shop and compare different seat offerings. EconomyPlus continues to be a part of the Economy cabin and is not a separate fare.

A year and a half ago United Airlines President Scott Kirby shared a plan with investors to offer a separate ‘domestic premium economy’ product. It’s a plan he had when he was still at American. This ‘very limited test’ could be related to that plan. At American he said that when they finally did it, there’d need to be some time for elites to get used to it, as it would effect elite benefits.

With United’s new revenue-based elite status starting in 2020 the airline would be wise not to take benefits away, because that more expensive status has become barely worth it as it is. And it seems silly to do so when they’re already discounting economy plus.

(HT: findark)

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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Comments

  1. As with Delta, this might result in the AmEx incidental airline credit being refused for “upgrades” to seats in this “new” class. 🙁

  2. Gary do you think it has something to do with harmonization of free e+ on domestic legs when buying PP on the overwater sector? I recall that the domestic leg will book into B class and that e+ was “free” for that….maybe it is best from a calibration perspective to just offer B as the separate e+ fare code to make it easier to manage. The routes being offered for the test might make sense due to the high connectivity factor for TATL and TPAC. Or could be the new upgrade lol

  3. Might backfire with some businesses. My company reimburses for seat selection fees, but not upgrades

  4. Not all Y+ seats cost the same surcharge when booking under the current (old?) system. Does the new method level the field and for a given price you can choose any seat in the Y+ section?

  5. The more trickery airlines employ the more I dislike them. Once again Southwest is winning the race by standing still.

  6. This a way to claim elites get upgrades when they are still sitting in coach. Brilliant! With Delta, international C+ seats can masquerade as premium economy on booking sites. American’s system is better for top tier. Ex Plats get free drinks and premium snacks no matter where they sit in coach. My preference is exit row because there is much greater legroom. AA FAs can identify Ex Plats and provide those benefits automatically. On DL Diamonds just get four drink coupons when they qualify and no snacks if sitting in exit rows.

  7. @UA-NYC
    Exactly what I was thinking. Anyone actually think that this will benefit the customer but not United?

  8. The Kirby strikes again, but seriously, I’m curious as to when the loyalty dam breaks. Unless airlines are going to shove 24+ first class seats into a bunch of A321’s, elites are almost never going to get upgrades, and will only occasionally get into Y+

  9. Yet one fewer available use for airline incidental credits. We’re going to be left with very few ways to use these credits.

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