The cheapest tickets on United are a worse value than similar fares on Delta and Southwest (especially) but even American too. Right now most passengers aren’t well-informed and disproportionately book through sites like Expedia – and as a result don’t know that they’re getting less value, because these sites don’t tell them. Online booking sites don’t serve the people who are ostensibly their customers.
American Airlines made basic economy almost no different from regular economy. You even receive elite benefits on a basic economy ticket.
- Starting next year you won’t earn credit towards status on basic economy fares
- If you want an advance seat assignment you’ll need to pay for it, but that’s not much different than on a regular economy fare if you don’t have status (where not many decet seats are open to you for free)
- Tickets aren’t changeable, but right now all tickets even basic economy ones can be changed free due to Covid waivers.
United Airlines in contrast won’t even let you bring a full sized carry on bag onto their planes if you’re on a basic economy ticket. That’s a restriction that American did away with and Delta never imposed. United went so far as to keep basic economy passengers who aren’t checking a bag from using their mobile app to check in. So it’s a huge extra hassle at the airport to be a basic economy flyer. (United wanted an in-person check to see that the person didn’t have a carry on before they got to the gate.)
Right now there are very few business travelers. Passengers skew younger and infrequent. They’re not brand loyal. They buy on schedule and price. And they’re probably booking through an online travel agency site. As a result most people flying don’t realize that United is delivering less value to them than competitors.
To be sure, click through a United itinerary and basic economy fare details will show you that you don’t get a carry on. But there’s nothing in bold, no advice or guidance, saying ‘buy a ticket on American, Delta, or Southwest instead‘ and ‘hey it’s the same price and better value!’
The problem of course is that people searching airfare on Expedia aren’t customers, they’re the product Expedia sells to airlines. Online Travel Agency sites could easily guide people to the best trips for them – which, unless United is the only non-stop or cheapest by a lot, isn’t United. But online booking sites don’t serve their customers well. Clearly consumers would benefit from disruption in online travel booking, yet the government has been investigating Google‘s practices that benefit consumers and take business away from online sites that harm consumers. What a strange world.