There’s a rumor on FlyerTalk — substantiated by a fair amount of evidence — that United Airlines is planning to offer new packages of benefits for its economy class passengers. These would be similar to the “Choice Essential” and “Choice Plus” economy class fares that American Airlines introduced two years ago. CityJet and Virgin Atlantic are also provided as examples in the PDF.
Basically, FlyerTalk member gk725 saw an unusual comment on the United mobile app and decided to investigate what it meant. An online search for the term “Economy Plus Essentials” led to the personal website of a web designer who lists United Airlines as his current employer (check out the resume on the home page). And like many creative professionals, this web designer had a portfolio of work available to view.
Included in that portfolio are several case studies for redesigning key elements of United’s customer interfaces, including a case study on the booking path for flight reservation bundles. United already offers something it calls “Economy (flexible)” fares that are basically refundable economy class fares. Apparently someone wanted to explore options for splitting this into two new categories: Economy Plus Essentials and Economy Plus Enhanced.
Let’s take a break before going further. I’m willing to believe this is a legitimate project that was actually completed for United Airlines. If he was simply trying to pitch an idea, he wouldn’t have had a job at United since 2013. Whether United actually plans to implement these changes is a different question.
The fact that gk725 saw the “Economy Plus Essentials” label on the mobile phone suggests that United actually is experimenting with the idea and that the terms used in the case study may be accurate. It’s still unclear if the benefits will be the same ones described.
In fact, a close read of the case study suggests that this guy’s job was not to decide if new packages should be offered but how to present them in the most appealing way.
By keeping users on the booking page with extremely easy to navigate options, we hoped to cut down on abandoned shopping carts and direct them straight through the checkout process.
Personally I think it’s a good idea. American Airlines has multiple economy class fare packages, and if United can implement a similar idea that encourages its customers to buy up for more benefits, that would presumably make the company more profitable.
By bundling some benefits with the fare up front — rather than selling an Economy Plus upgrade after the fact — I suspect the airline is likely to see more interest than it currently does by selling access for individual flights or as an annual subscription.
What Are the Benefits?
Remember this is just an example from a guy hired to help design the website. Anyone could change the benefits or even the names of the packages before they go live. They could change the pricing, too. But here are some benefits that were provided in the screenshots:
- The original “lowest” fare class will still include advance seat assignment but not much else. I think this is a positive sign as United is not taking the extreme approach of unbundling its fares as Delta and some low cost carriers have done.
- Economy Plus Essentials will include a few other benefits including extra legroom and an extra checked bag.
- Those who buy up to Economy Plus Enhanced will also receive Premier Access and United Club access during their trip.
I’m not worried about this change affecting elite benefits. The fact that a Premier 1K member saw this on the mobile app doesn’t mean that United plans to remove anything. It could be a glitch. It could also just be that United is changing how it offers some benefits like extra legroom on the back end and will continue to offer additional benefits over and above.
When Is It Happening?
Assuming all this is true, when will we see the new fares?
Bundles [are] currently in QA and slated to be released in phase 2 of the new UNITED.com.
I guess we’ll have to wait for phase 2. Or, to see it in action, there’s a URL and password buried in the PDF where you can test the new interface yourself!