United Premier 1Ks Now Get Free Food In Economy

Filed Under: United

With US carriers experiencing record profitability, we’re finally seeing them invest in the onboard product a bit. United has been doing an impressive job with some new customer initiatives, like adding complimentary snacks back in economy on domestic flights. This is minor in the grand scheme of things, but at least it shows some effort, at a time where oil is less than $30/barrel.

Yesterday United announced a new policy, where Premier 1K and Global Services members receive a complimentary beverage and food item when seated in economy on flights within North America, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.

Here are the details, via View from the Wing:

Beginning today, January 20, 2016, we will be offering Premier 1K and Global Services members 1 complimentary beverage and 1 complimentary Choice Menu food item when seated in United Economy for all UA/UAX flights within North America (all 50-state U.S. flights, Canada, Caribbean, Mexico and Central America).

As many of you noted back in October 2015, we began offering 1 complimentary drink to our Global Services and Premier 1K members seated in Economy, and this is an expansion of that program to recognize and show appreciation for your business. We are communicating these changes to our internal teams now and an email communication with more details will also be sent to eligible members in the coming days. Before ordering let your flight attendant know that you are a Global Services or Premier 1K member and show your digital MileagePlus membership card, Premier membership card, or boarding pass.

So Premier 1K and Global Services members can choose between a snack, snackbasket, or one of the fresh onboard items, if available on a flight. Here’s United’s full buy on board menu.


United is following American’s lead here, as they’ve been offering Executive Platinum members one complimentary drink and food item for years now. It’s definitely a nice perk which somewhat takes the blow out of upgrades not clearing. And I sometimes even find the “fresh” food in economy to be better than the hot food in first class.

Complimentary Executive Platinum snack in American economy

While I of course commend airlines for making this shift, I think it’s important to note what’s really going on here, and this isn’t specific to one airline or to one policy change. Airlines are finally being run like businesses, and over time we’re going to see fewer and fewer upgrades. For example, Delta recently shared that in 2011 only 31% of first class passengers had paid, while in 2015 that number increased to 57%. By 2018 they’re hoping over 70% of first class seats are paid for.

The fundamental shift we’re seeing is that airlines are offering top tier elites extra legroom economy seating with free food, since free upgrades will become tougher to clear. From a business standpoint that’s perfectly defensible.

Bottom line

Kudos to United for this change, and for in general seemingly putting some effort into the customer experience lately. Now both American and United offer their top tier elite members complimentary drinks and food in economy.

Funny enough this means that Delta is trailing for once. Delta offers all passengers in their Comfort+ cabin complimentary drinks and snacks, but this doesn’t include the fresh food items. Diamond Medallion members don’t get any additional perks in that regard.

To top tier United flyers: are you excited about this change?

  1. How would they be identified while seating in Economy? The passenger manifest with the assigned seating must be spot on then?

  2. @Cabin Guy – United may or may not take the same approach, but Air Berlin (Germany / oneworld) advises the purser to use the passenger list they get upon boarding is completed to identify all elite passengers (the membership level is printed on the passenger list). It usually works fairly well (the purser welcomes every top-tier member personally).

  3. thanks! – it would just feel awkward when others are paying and all of a sudden the one next to you gets a complimentary more awkward for the flight attendant but its all about the status…

  4. I was in United E+ last week and got $20 worth of food and didn’t get charged. I think that was just a forgetful flight attendant though. I have no status.

    I have to say, I really like the way JetBlue handles in flight purchases. They basically run a tab on their tablet that is linked to your seat number and they come around towards the end of the flight to settle up. Make more sense than collecting money multiple times from the same passenger if they get multiple food items or drinks.

  5. I find it funny how United/american/delta think that giving free snacks on board to elites is a big thing. BA has been offering snacks for all passengers for free for years

  6. Well, what about 2 million milers who have shown loyalty to United over 25 plus years! Guess that does not count.

  7. UA has been ‘kind of’ (but not always) providing 1 complimentary drink to GS/1Ks in Y for the last few months. It’s been hit or miss and really depends on flight attendants, Former UA flight attendants are generally good and holding pax manifest during 1st drink service to verify while former CO attendants have no clue…

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