United Now Gives Complimentary Food to Top Elites Sitting in Coach

United spokesperson Rahsaan Johnson just shared with me a new policy, in effect starting today: 1K and Global Services members receive both a complimentary beverage and complimentary food item when seated in economy.

Beginning today, January 20, 2016, we will be offering Premier 1K and Global Services members 1 complimentary beverage and 1 complimentary Choice Menu food item when seated in United Economy for all UA/UAX flights within North America (all 50-state U.S. flights, Canada, Caribbean, Mexico and Central America).

As many of you noted back in October 2015, we began offering 1 complimentary drink to our Global Services and Premier 1K members seated in Economy, and this is an expansion of that program to recognize and show appreciation for your business. We are communicating these changes to our internal teams now and an email communication with more details will also be sent to eligible members in the coming days. Before ordering let your flight attendant know that you are a Global Services or Premier 1K member and show your digital MileagePlus membership card, Premier membership card, or boarding pass.

American has offered this benefit to its Executive Platinum members for years. And Delta now includes snacks and beverages bundled into its extra legroom ‘Comfort+’ cabin seats which top elites sitting in coach will almost always have access to. So in some ways United is coming in behind their two large rivals. But it’s a real improvement for frequent travelers.

The snack and drink benefit, I can say as a top tier elite with American, is something that really improves the coach experience. It takes it from mass transportation (‘cattle car’) and helps to personalize it, because even when you don’t get upgraded there’s still a benefit to your status and individual recognition. Together with a complimentary extra legroom seat, flying coach as a top elite really isn’t bad.

United has unveiled a new domestic first class seat and rumor is that we’ll see a new international business seat soon. They’re adding free snacks back to coach and switching to illy coffee (better coffee is a move, I’ve suggested, which doesn’t just benefit frequent flyers but also benefits an airline’s bottom line).

While I wouldn’t call United ‘industry-leading’ as a result of adding a complimentary beverage and snack in coach for top elites (whom you hope aren’t sitting in coach too often), they’ve made a number of moves to improve their inflight product in a meaningful way in the past several months and deserve credit for that.

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. Except its not really getting better, it’s basically a tacit admission that you won’t be upgraded much. They would rather sell the upgrade for $50 and give you the $2 snack. Back in the day top level elites hardly flew coach, we just got upgraded 95% of the time or more, and for those few short flights for which we didn’t get the upgrade we had drink coupons.

  2. I haven’t been in coach domestically on delta much, but I believe it doesn’t limit C+ to one drink. On international flights delta serves free alcoholic beverages (definitely not just one) to C+ and I think everyone in economy. It is nice not to shell out for an extra Woodford or two on a long international flight.

    So American and United have a long way to go to match that. The American policy, and I assume United’s, surpasses delta in that a top elite can sit anywhere in economy and get the benefit of this policy.

    If I’m in economy on delta domestically, many times I prefer an exit row over C+. But choosing the exit row makes me ineligible for the free beverage and food. Further Delta’s new restrictions on selecting C+ will make it harder to get a good seat in C+ and make it more likely I will end up in an exit row domestically.

  3. This is industry leading. Delta only gives you a snack basket item.

    AA gives you a ‘snack’ box.

    UA is giving you the option of a hot meal.

  4. What took them so long? AA has been doing this for its ExecPlats for years. The reason I will go from 1K for the past six years to just Premier Gold with UA but maintained my ExecPlat with AA. A bit late to the game…The curse of Smisek!

  5. @Greg American gives you anything off the menu in my experience. It’s not a hot meal, since they don’t sell those in coach, but it’s not just a snack box. [The sandwiches are quite good].

  6. Nick is spot on. this is because complimentary upgrades are almost non-existent for 1K now as they are selling upgrades for a few bucks. Take an upgrade away and throw in a cheap meal; I think that’s insulting to most peoples intelligence.

  7. At last! As a 1K, I’ve been personally lobbying for this for years — ever since they took away free coach meals. As a former AA ExecPlat, I know how much better you feel stuck in coach getting the free food. Yes, it’s arguably a little thing, but it matters. It’s nice to be appreciated, and treated as the valued customer you’re supposed to be. And with upgrades getting scarce — even for 1Ks — the status was getting pretty worthless. Heck, the reciprocal Gold benefit from Marriott was probably worth more than what UA was giving me directly!

    Looking at the UA website, the “Choice Menu” encompasses both light snacks and real meals in the “Bistro on Board.” Assuming the spokesman knows what he’s talking about, this means that UA is going to give free MEALS to 1Ks. That’s a pretty decent benefit. Give me a free drink, a free meal, extra legroom and (sometimes) an empty middle seat and I’m going to be a pretty happy camper on most flights, even if you don’t upgrade me. And I would think that’s what UA, or any business, would want their highest frequency customers to think.

  8. What I don’t understand (or maybe I’m behind the times,) why not offer DirectTV in Y for top elites by letting them swipe their elite cards as a benefit?

  9. I fly AA econ a lot as an EXP, and my experience is that you can basically get as much as you want for free. Yesterday, I was flying with a friend (non-elite), and we had 4 drinks, two chicken wraps, and a snack box. Previously, I’ve gotten a sandwich, chips, and multiple drinks. I previously flew next to a WWII vet, and I even was able to get the FA to give him some complimentary wine!

    I get treated better in economy than I do in first. I don’t mind it, at all.

  10. This is great. I’ve been including this desire on every post-flight survey that United sends me, and I’m glad that apparently someone over there is listening.

  11. This is so pathetic. In most other countries (and even in the US until a few years ago), ALL passengers receive a free snack or meal. Sad to see how low the expectations of American flyers have become.

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