Will United Airlines start treating Economy Plus as a separate class of service? What will happen to MileagePlus elites, who currently can assign those seats for free? An unannounced trial this week by United is simply that, a trial, but still raises cause for concern.
United Files Economy Plus As Separate Fare Class
Earlier this week, without notice, United filed Economy Plus as a separate fare class on a limited number of routes, including:
- Chicago – Los Angeles
- Chicago – Newark
- Newark – Los Angeles
- Newark – San Francisco
Take San Francisco to Newark for example. As you can see in the fare filing below, you have five fares:
Cxr Basis BC Cbn Price Tp AP Min Max Days Rf
UA WAA4AQBN N Y $280.00 OW 14 N
UA WAA4AQDN W Y $315.00 OW 14 N
UA WAA4AQPN B Y $444.00 OW 14 N
UA WAA4AQON A W $514.00 OW 14 N
UA VAP30UPN P J $694.00 OW 30 N
In this example, the fares are broken down into five booking classes, with the letter-designated fare class representing the cheapest fare available within that class of service:
- N = Basic Economy
- W = United Economy (not the cheapest fare class, but the cheapest available)
- B = United Economy Plus
- A = United Premium Plus (premium economy)
- J = United Business
You can see that B, which has traditionally been a near-full-fare, refundable economy ticket, has been assigned to EconomyPlus in this trial. On a SFO-EWR trip, that costs $129 more than a standard economy class ticket.
Indeed, if you pull up the fare basis for the new B fare, you see:
NOTE – THE FOLLOWING TEXT IS INFORMATIONAL AND NOT
VALIDATED FOR AUTOPRICING.
ECONOMY PLUS OW/RT
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
SEATS ARE LIMITED.
Breaking It Down
If that section went over your head, here it is in a nutshell: United is thinking about treating Economy Plus as a separate cabin of service. From a revenue perspective, this might make a lot of sense for corporate travelers who may not be allowed to pay for seat assignments, would be permitted to book this slightly higher-priced fare.
And while that is all fine and good, it is cause for concern because of what Delta has already done with this model.
Will United Copy Delta Model?
This is particularly a cause for concern because Delta treats its extra-legroom economy product, Comfort+, as a separate cabin. Elites are “upgraded” when seated in that section. Platinum and Diamond SkyMiles members receive “instant upgrades” when booking, but Gold members must now wait until 72 hours before departure for an upgrade.
As for the product, the only standard difference between regular economy and Comfort+ on Delta is three extra inches of legroom and priority boarding. On some transcon flights, Comfort+ passengers receive blankets, pillows, and a small amenity kit. Alcohol is also complimentary.
United: Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Thus far, United says this is merely a trial and that Economy Plus is still part of the economy cabin. A spokesperson told me:
We’re running a very limited test in a small number of markets that displays Economy Plus as a booking option during shopping to allow customers to easily shop and compare different seat offerings. Economy Plus continues to be a part of the Economy cabin and is not a separate fare.
Note that the statement does not deny that Economy Plus may be a separate cabin one day, perhaps even in the near future.
But I have to think with all the changes United has recently made to United MileagePlus it would not dare try to, for example, cut back on the EconomyPlus benefit for Gold members.
I suspect we will see Economy Plus as a separate cabin of service…sometime in 2020. Perhaps even upgradable using 5-10 PlusPoints. But for now, the status quo continues. Note, like the picture above, Economy Plus already appears as puedo-separate cabin of service on the new CRJ-500, with purple seat covers (instead of blue) and a cabin placard traditionally reserved for premium cabins.
> Read More: United Introduces PlusPoints, A New Upgrade Currency
Treating Economy Plus as a separate cabin of service would likely have positive revenue implications for United. That’s why I am predicting it will copy Delta and make the full transition at some point. What that will mean for elite members, particularly mid-tier elite members, remains to be seen. But for now, the status quo remains.
(Thanks to Flyertalk member findark for stumbling upon this)