Of the “big three” US airlines, United is the last to start offering premium economy on longhaul flights.
Surprisingly this is an area where American was first, followed by Delta (usually it’s the other way around).
United Airlines’ new premium economy, called Premium Plus, will be going on sale soon. United has announced that Premium Plus seats will go on sale Monday, December 3, 2018, for flights starting March 30, 2019.
What United routes will have Premium Plus?
By the end of May 2019, it’s expected that the new premium economy experience will be available on 21 routes, as follows:
- As of March 30, 2019, Premium Plus will be available:
- From Newark to Brussels, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Paris, Tel Aviv, and Tokyo Narita
- From San Francisco to Auckland, Beijing, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tel Aviv, and Tokyo Narita
- From Washington to Brussels
- As of April 29, 2019, Premium Plus will be available:
- From San Francisco to London Heathrow
- From Newark to Barcelona and Paris
- From Washington to Paris
- As of May 22, 2019, Premium Plus will be available:
- From Newark to Brussels and Dublin
- From Washington to Tel Aviv
What I’m most curious about is what premium economy means for upgrades and award tickets.
How will United handle premium economy upgrades?
United has announced that customers with Global Premier Upgrades who book economy tickets will continue to be able to upgrade directly to business class. However, they can also use Global Premier Upgrades to upgrade from economy to premium economy, if they prefer.
So that means eligible members can request upgrades in one of three ways:
- Only to business class
- Only to premium economy (though I’m not sure why anyone would do that)
- To business class and premium economy
The other benefit is that you can upgrade all economy fares to premium economy, so they don’t have the same fare class restrictions as upgrading to business class.
When it comes to using miles to upgrade, United says that you’ll also be able to use miles to upgrade to either premium economy or business class, though updated prices will eventually be introduced.
What about award tickets in United premium economy?
United will also be introducing MileagePlus award redemptions for travel in premium economy, though those prices haven’t been published yet.
How does United’s policy compare to American and Delta?
The good news is that as of now all three US carriers allow upgrades from economy to business class. To compare United’s new policy to that of American and Delta:
- American doesn’t let you redeem miles to book an award ticket in or upgrade to premium economy; the only way to get into premium economy is to pay cash, or otherwise Executive Platinum and Concierge Key members receive complimentary space available upgrades on the day of departure
- Delta lets you redeem miles either to book an award ticket in or to upgrade to premium economy, and you can also use their Global Upgrades for a premium economy upgrade
Long term we’ll see how this all plays out
Historically systemwide upgrades issued by the “big three” US carriers have only been valid for one cabin upgrades.
I’m not surprised that for now all three carriers continue to allow upgrades from economy to business class. That’s because the airlines love to match one another in a short timeframe, so it’s not surprising that they’re waiting until United starts selling premium economy before making any major changes.
So while I don’t know the timeline, I would guess that:
- American and United will soon introduce premium economy award tickets, and I’d be surprised if this didn’t lead to at least a slight devaluation in business class award prices
- Eventually I imagine that American, Delta, and United will all add restrictions when it comes to how you can redeem systemwide upgrades for a two cabin upgrade; that could be within the next year, or it could be a couple of years down the road
Do you think US airlines will add restrictions for upgrading from economy to business class on planes with premium economy?
(Photo credit: United)