Who Gets Access to United’s Economy Plus?

Chad said,

If I have Turkish Airlines Gold Status (Star Alliance Gold), do I qualify for Economy Plus seating on United? Uniteds website won’t allow me to change seats without a fee even if I have my Turkish Airlines gold number in my profile.

When United first introduced Economy Plus — 3 to 4 extra inches of legroom in the coach cabin — they made it available to their own elite members as well as Star Alliance gold members and passengers traveling on full fare tickets.

They found some success in selling the seats at a premium and stopped allowing free access to Star Alliance Golds such as Turkish Elite members. They even stopped allowing free economy plus seats to full fare passengers — which led to some really absurd results.

For a time a passenger might book a full fare first class ticket, London Heathrow – Washington Dulles – Las Vegas. Since Washington Dulles – Las Vegas was served by United’s low(er) cost subsidiary TED with no first class, that passenger would of course be seated in coach for DC-Las Vegas. And if they were not an elite, they would be offered the opportunity to buy up on their full fare first class ticket to economy plus seating for the domestic flight. Brilliant, right?

Economy Plus seating is available at booking, complimentary, to United’s Gold elites and higher and passengers on full fare tickets (Platinums and higher for everyone on the reservation, Golds for up to one companion). It is available for their Silver members (including one companion) at check-in. For everyone else, unless you get bumped up there because of lack of seats that don’t have extra legroom, you pay.

There’s no free economy plus for partner elites, and first-tier elites who fly 25,000 miles a year no longer get the perk for free.

Your Turkish Airlines elite status won’t get you extra legroom on United, sorry!

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. Yes, and this single change in their system (no E+ advance booking) caused me to drop my 35+ segments per year on UA (and Premiere Status) to a mere 5 segments in 2012-13. I have abandoned UA despite their SFO hub. Since as a Premiere they offer me essentially nothing for 30-40k miles a year, I’ve pushed everything to AA, VX and whomever can get me there most conveniently.

  2. Strangely, I was upgraded from to E+ in Nov on my BRU-IAD flight, at the transfer desk in BRU. The agent offered and said, “I see you’re eligible for an upgrade to E+.” I was not expecting it and imagined that it was either a mistake or my United Club card had something to do with it. With that I am eligible for an upgrade but only on an award ticket. I was on a revenue ticket.

  3. While US’s potential merger with AA may make the point moot (as they’ll migrate to Oneworld), the current treatment of elites between UA and US is particularly absurd. Because UA threw US’s Star Gold members out of Economy Plus, US retaliated by offering no special seating preference for UA’s Star Golds.

    What this means in practical terms is that I, as a UA 1K, get priority boarding (group 1) on US, but — unless I can cajole the gate agent or club room attendant for a better last-minute seat — I have to take a crummy seat in the back of the airplane when I fly US.

    Some “alliance” they’ve got there!

  4. I find, flying out of YYZ at least, a *G card gets me Y+ seating at no cost when I check in in person.


  5. I think US only has exit row and bulk heads but not any true E+, so lack of extra row economy benefit is a minor annoyance for me.

    The biggest potential annoyance is that USAirways is usually very price competitive out of NYC, esp within 2 weeks of departure, and frequently has award seats when everyone else is out. I can easily take that and still get full PQM/miles/bonus on UA. With the pending merger of US+AA, that big benefit would probably go away.

  6. I am a Lufthansa Senator, and as such Star Alliance Gold. I was also not amused with this change. I had my first flight two weeks ago and I was told I could call 24hours before the flight and secure my Econ+ seats. I called both times about 26 – 25 hours before (to try and get a choice before the United Silver) and both times was transferred to the Star Alliance desk of United and got those seats without any issue. It appeared to me that as Star Alliance Gold you will have the same benefits as United Silver. I was quite happy with my seats 😉 !

  7. Pablo, TK’s E+ is a completely separate class of service. United uses the same seat + extra legroom, TK has completely separate seats for Comfort Class.

  8. No other *A airline has E+ so, were UA to offer it free to other *Gold passengers, what reciprocity would UA receive for its *Gold passengers travelling on other *A airlines? This is the root cause of the matter and why I believe that UA is correct in its approach.

    Having said that, not offering it to full fare passengers is strange.

  9. Gary – so does that mean that the only benefit now for having either Aegean or Turkish elite as a United flyer is one free checked bag? It sounds like everything else has gone away…

  10. Couldn’t agree with SST more. E- is an insult and 24-hour advance E+ is punitive to the Star Silver. Just flew 4 legs of THAT and had a horrible E+ seat selection (middle rows, near the bathroom, etc) on all 4 legs. To keep loyalty to UA, I’d even buy the E+ annually if it were an option. Nope, that’s been removed too! I refuse to be upsold on each flight. Unless I could be certain I’d fly 75k, my decision on the marginal flights is certainly Not-UA.

  11. This has been the case for a couple of years now and is very annoying. I remember being on a first class redemption ticket TATL, yet being stuck near the back on the leg from NY to ORD as no first or business availability open to partners and no E+ despite *G on a First redemption -not good.

  12. Gary: You made it clear at first that silver still get E+ at check-in, but then at the end you wrote “There’s no free economy plus for partner elites, and first-tier elites who fly 25,000 miles a year no longer get the perk for free.”

    The second part of your statement is incorrect, since silver elites do get it for free (albeit only at check-in).

  13. I’m a Premier Silver and have been lucky enough to get nearly every time at least E+ (I also got First Class on 50% of my regional flights last year).
    My partner will soon be *Gold with Aegean, that way we’ll get the *Gold perks from him (lounge access for example) and my premier silver perks (upgrades, Priority service) from Unites.
    I think that it will work just fine for us!

  14. This is definitely a case of YMMV. As a *G I find I can get E+ by asking nicely at (1) check-in, (2) from the lounge dragon, or (3) at the gate. One of them usually comes through more often than not.

  15. I like E+ very much. Being able to book E+ in advance is a major reason I fly on UA enough to qualify for Premier Gold status. The fact is that most Silvers who buy discount E- seats just don’t generate enough marginal profit for UA to justify providing them E+ in advance.

  16. So if I fly united first or business on an award ticket with no status do I get E+ on a no-first/business leg?

  17. @Papergirl – are you Premier Gold or higher? If so, you should get E+ seating on award tickets at the time of booking. You may have to call the Premier desk to request seat assignments.

  18. flying YYZ to Beijing in a couple of weeks; unfortunately its with a travel group and we got stuck in the last row, by the bathrooms so I’ve been fuming for months now. Im checking for upgrades as hubby wanted a window seat (unfortunately in economy the whole back of the plane is full. So only if we go Economy plus and pay the fee will we be able to move. my question is it is saying if we want to upgrade and our seat is cheaper than the upgrade our seat fare will be refunded and we will be charged for a new transaction. Sorry but I paid enough for my ticket for this lifetime trip so I guess unless I call united to verify the amount I guess i’m stuck listening to people flushing away for 14 hours. Not a happy camper leading up to this trip.

  19. My wife and I have been LOYAL TO UAL with always various levels of Premier to 1K for over 25ys. We have over 1.5M combined actual flight miles and presently over 750K unused award miles. The last couple of yrs we were only Prem silver (which still means averaging 2-4K UAL miles EACH MO. for each of us) and couldn’t get econ+ seating at booking. By time of ck-in the only econ+ are center so would rather sit together in plain econ.
    WE FINALLY JUST GAVE UP. All you get for silver is a free bag. The least they could do is give some discount for purchasing econ+. This year we used award miles or flew whatever airline has the best connections or cheaper rates which we then used the savings to upgrade seats. It makes no sense. UAL may get us to pay $50-$70 sometime for an enco+ upgrade but look at all the flight miles they lost.

  20. I am a TK Elite+ (*A Gold).

    Were upgraded -with my wife- at check-in to E+ seats when we flew from EWR to CUN and CUN to IAH flights. Never flew with UA before and surprized.

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