United to let you buy economy plus

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For my money, the most important advantage of frequent flyer status on United is that it gets you access to economy plus (E+) seating, which has 3-4 inches more leg room than economy, which makes an enormous difference if you're tall. United is now offering non-elite customers the opportunity to purchase a yearly pass to get into E+ for $299/year. They're also offering a discounted combined E+/red carpet club membership for $699/year.

Some implications:

  • Being non-elite and flying United is even less attractive. Currently, you can sometimes get E+ at the airport on an as available basis. That's going to be harder of other non-elites can buy it.
  • It's less attractive for elites to fly United (because they're less likely to have E+ empty) but more attractive for them to get more status to make sure that they don't get stuck in economy because of lack of room for probably a wash.
  • This basically introduces a fourth tier of service ahead Economy and behind Business. Is the endgame adjustable seats and being able to pay for every additional inch of legroom?
  • The most interesting feature here (and one that suggests we're not moving towards pay-for-inch) is that this is a membership, not a per-flight choice. That obviously has the advantage for United that it creates loyalty among people who buy the pass, since it's now much more attractive to fly United than another carrier.

Of course, a lot of people's travel is payed for by their employers. I wonder if businesses be willing to pay for people's personal memberships in this program?

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I know of several companies (at least one public) that have corporate policies that permit expensing an annual "Frequent Flyer" program for the express purpose of access to improved seats and airport lounges. To qualify in both cases you need to be in the appropriate place on the corporate org chart, or travel frequently and get manager / area VP approval.

I flew United from London->Washington Dulles in June, and was told that the only way to get an E+ seat would be for me to pay a $50 dollar fee. It was a pretty new policy, and it seemed like they were just testing it out in a few markets.

However, for a 7+ hour flight, $50 dollars isn't completely unreasonable.

I'm a grad student though, and thus poor, so I just sucked it up, and took my regular economy seat.

I like United E+ but it always reminds me that other airlines offer more legroom for the same cost of a United ticket. Also, the availability of E+ (even for holders of the pass) sucks on most popular flights, especially shuttles and coast-to-coast. So I'm miffed that I paid for it.

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