Guide To United Airlines Economy Plus: Is It Worth It?

Guide To United Airlines Economy Plus: Is It Worth It?

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Airlines are always looking for ways to segment their consumer base, in order to get as much revenue from each passenger as possible. Over the years, we’ve seen just about all major US airlines introduce extra legroom economy seating, intended both as a reward for elite members, and as an ancillary revenue opportunity.

In this post I wanted to take a closer look at Economy Plus, which is United Airlines’ extra legroom economy seating. United was the first major US airline to offer an extra legroom economy section, though unfortunately at this point the product hasn’t really kept up. I’ve written about similar products offered by other airlines, including Alaska Premium Class, American Main Cabin ExtraDelta Comfort+, and JetBlue Even More Space.

United Economy Plus offers extra legroom

United Economy Plus offers dedicated seating with three to six inches of extra legroom compared to standard economy seating. Economy Plus is generally located in the first several rows of economy, and also at exit rows.

United offers Economy Plus throughout its mainline and regional fleet, so you’ll find the cabin on everything from United’s shortest domestic flights to United’s longest international flights.

With airlines having continued to squeeze more and more seats onto planes over the years, the legroom in “standard” economy has become much more restrictive. As a result, Economy Plus at least provides a more acceptable level of legroom, so that your knees aren’t pushed into the seat back in front of you.

United Economy Plus offers extra legroom

United Economy Plus offers no extra services

United Economy Plus truly just offers extra legroom, and that’s it. For example, United doesn’t offer complimentary alcohol or priority boarding for Economy Plus passengers, while that’s something that’s offered in Alaska Premium Class, American Main Cabin Extra, and Delta Comfort+.

Now, if you have elite status anyway, than the lack of priority boarding and even free drinks may not impact you that much. But it’s interesting how this is an area where United lags its competitors.

Who gets United Economy Plus for free

United MileagePlus Premier members are eligible for complimentary upgrades to Economy Plus, and the policy is pretty straightforward (note this isn’t available on basic economy fares):

  • United Premier 1K and Premier Platinum members receive complimentary Economy Plus upgrades at the time of booking, for themselves and up to eight companions
  • United Premier Gold members receive complimentary Economy Plus upgrades at the time of booking, for themselves and up to one companion
  • United Premier Silver members receive complimentary Economy Plus upgrades at the time of check-in (up to 24 hours out), for themselves and up to one companion

On most routes, you should have no issues finding a good Economy Plus seat at the time of booking. Admittedly this depends on the route, day of week, how far in advance you’re booking, etc.

Elite members receive Economy Plus upgrades as a perk

The cost to purchase United Economy Plus

If you don’t receive it complimentary, there are two ways to pay for Economy Plus seating — you can either buy an annual subscription for Economy Plus, or you can upgrade to Economy Plus on a particular flight.

Annual subscriptions cost $599-1,299, and allow you to assign Economy Plus seats at the time of booking. The cost varies based on the region in which you want to be able to upgrade, as well as whether you want companion upgrades or not.

If you want an Economy Plus subscription just for yourself, you can expect to pay:

  • $599 for domestic flights, excluding Alaska and Hawaii
  • $699 for flights within North America and Central America
  • $799 for flights throughout United’s network

If you want an Economy Plus subscription for yourself and up to one companion, you can expect to pay:

  • $799 for domestic flights, excluding Alaska and Hawaii
  • $899 for flights within North America and Central America
  • $999 for flights throughout United’s network

If you want an Economy Plus subscription for yourself and up to eight companions, you can expect to pay:

  • $1,099 for domestic flights, excluding Alaska and Hawaii
  • $1,199 for flights within North America and Central America
  • $1,299 for flights throughout United’s network

Whether or not that’s worth it really depends on your travel patterns. I mean, in theory a single long haul flight with eight companions would let you come out ahead on a $1,299 fee. Admittedly that’s not how most people travel, though.

Alternatively, you can pay for Economy Plus on a particular segment. While United states that the cost ranges from $29 to $299 per flight, in some cases you’ll find it’s even more expensive than that. The cost is dynamic, so it varies not only based on the particular flight, but also based on the particular seat you choose — window and aisle seats are typically more expensive than middle seats, and seats further up are also often more expensive than seats further back.

You can reserve Economy Plus at the time of booking, or any time up until departure. When you go through the booking process, there are two ways you can buy Economy Plus. You can either buy a bundle that includes Economy Plus (among other services), or you can just pay the fee to assign a specific seat.

For example, taking a random San Francisco to Los Angeles flight, I see that you can buy a bundle that just includes Economy Plus for $52 per person. But if you don’t buy the bundle, then Economy Plus costs $43-45, depending on the seat you choose. That bundle isn’t exactly a great deal!

United Economy Plus bundle
United Economy Plus cost

As another example, taking a random San Francisco to Singapore flight, you can buy a bundle that just includes Economy Plus for $272 per person. But if you don’t buy the bundle, then Economy Plus costs $299-329, so in that case the bundle is actually a better deal.

United Economy Plus bundle
United Economy Plus cost

United Economy Plus seating pricing is definitely steep, especially when you consider it doesn’t include extra services, like priority boarding or free drinks.

Is United Economy Plus worth it?

Obviously if you’re eligible for complimentary upgrades to United Economy Plus, you should absolutely take advantage of that, since it’s not costing you anything extra. But what about for those who have to pay for upgrades?

United Economy Plus is definitely among the higher priced extra legroom economy seating options, despite not including anything extra. On a one-off basis, I think it could make sense to buy Economy Plus in order to be comfortable. However, if you fly United with any frequency, buying an Economy Plus subscription will probably be a better deal.

Then again, if you fly United with any frequency, hopefully you have elite status, and therefore receive Economy Plus for free.

United Economy Plus could be worth it

Bottom line

United Economy Plus is the Star Alliance carrier’s extra legroom economy seating, offering several extra inches of legroom. This can help make an economy flight more pleasant, though don’t expect any additional services, unlike on other airlines.

If you have United MileagePlus Premier status, then you can get access to Economy Plus on a complimentary basis. Otherwise, you can either buy Economy Plus seating on a particular flight, or can purchase an annual subscription.

What has your experience been with United Economy Plus?

Conversations (7)
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  1. LB Guest

    I bought the economy plus subscription but it does not show up in my mileage plus account. Other comments on reddit have the same issues. 5 agents later plus 2.5 hours of chat could not resolve the issue. Don't buy it!

  2. Marjorie Scharfspitz Guest

    Delta Airlines cannot keep straight even the simplest booking. When ready to board a flight from NYC to London, Delta claimed I hadn’t paid, which I had. Agents delayed me, missed my flight until the following day, and couldn’t attend a family event. Delta refused to compensate me for their mistake!

  3. Michael Guest

    The flip side is that United has far more Economy Plus seats than any other US carrier operating the same aircraft type, which means for elites, it's much easier to snag one, especially for low level elites that only get them at checkin. The lack of extra services is, at least for elites, balanced out by how much easier it is to secure a seat. Definitely makes buying the seat with cash a worse deal though.

    1. Mallthus Gold

      Exactly this. It's the best available scenario for elites (good availability) and the worst case for cash buyers (low reward).

  4. T- Guest

    Hmmm… It seems that United ought to change this to better compete with the rest of the world. They are trying to change/modernize their product.

  5. Jack Guest

    Great analysis Ben. Economy Plus is way behind the competition. However it's still better than AC "Preferred Seat" which is just at the front of the aircraft!

  6. Justin Guest

    As a non-status steerage passenger I ended up buying the year long pass for our upcoming trip to PPT. It was like $100 more than buying seats. However it’s a bit of a unique situation in that it’s the anniversary honeymoon we never took and I’m boxed into Economy award tickets. Economy Plus on the IAD-SFO widebody though does give us access to the normally Premier Plus purple seats so I’m saying it’s Premium Economy Minus.

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Michael Guest

The flip side is that United has far more Economy Plus seats than any other US carrier operating the same aircraft type, which means for elites, it's much easier to snag one, especially for low level elites that only get them at checkin. The lack of extra services is, at least for elites, balanced out by how much easier it is to secure a seat. Definitely makes buying the seat with cash a worse deal though.

1
LB Guest

I bought the economy plus subscription but it does not show up in my mileage plus account. Other comments on reddit have the same issues. 5 agents later plus 2.5 hours of chat could not resolve the issue. Don't buy it!

0
Marjorie Scharfspitz Guest

Delta Airlines cannot keep straight even the simplest booking. When ready to board a flight from NYC to London, Delta claimed I hadn’t paid, which I had. Agents delayed me, missed my flight until the following day, and couldn’t attend a family event. Delta refused to compensate me for their mistake!

0
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