United Will Start Charging To Assign Some “Regular” Economy Seats

Filed Under: United

Airlines are constantly trying to increase their ancillary revenue, and that’s particularly true in the US. While we’ve long seen ultra low cost carriers in the US, we’ve also seen traditional network carriers adopt those methods in the form of basic economy.

Along those lines, it looks like United will starting charging to assign some regular economy seats starting in the fourth quarter of 2018. At least this is hinted at on the United Corporate Preferred website, which outlines some of the corporate plans available with United.

Specifically, it says the following:

Customers will enjoy access to preferred seats in Q4 2018. These standard-legroom seats will typically closer to the front of the aircraft behind United Premium Plus and Economy Plus.

This is an interesting move for United to make. Currently United charges extra for Economy Plus seats, but all “regular” economy seats are considered equal for the purposes of being able to assign them in advance.

So it seems like United will be adopting American’s model of also charging extra to assign some regular economy seats towards the front of the economy section. For example, take the below seatmap for a flight between Miami and San Francisco, where American is charging $16-19 for assigning an economy seat towards the front of the cabin, behind Main Cabin Extra.

I think we can safely assume that Scott Kirby is the mastermind behind this, given that he used to be president of American and is now president of United.

Sure, they view this as an easy revenue opportunity, though none of this really makes sense to me in the context of basic economy. One of the reasons to avoid basic economy is so you can assign a seat in advance, but if the airline is going to charge you to assign a regular economy seat anyway, then that takes away a large part of the benefit.

As an update, a United spokesperson has issued the following statement regarding this:

Beginning later this year, at time of booking, select standard Economy seats typically closer to the front of the aircraft behind Economy Plus will be available for Corporate Preferred Elite Customers and United MileagePlus Premier customers, free of charge. If these seats are not filled, they will be opened for all customers to select at check-in, free of charge.

These preferred seats will be available for purchase for all other customers at time of booking.

(Tip of the hat to Wandering Aramean)

  1. “These standard-legroom seats will typically closer to the front of the aircraft behind United Premium Plus and Economy Plus.”
    Maybe we should charge United for not using the word ‘be’?

  2. All the more reason to fly with Jetblue and Southwest. I actively book away from American when I see these ridiculous seatmaps, and I’ll do this with UAL too. Thanks United!

  3. Lucky, I think the title of this article is a little bit premature. UA hasnt announced anything of this sort, just that Corporate Travelers will have better seat map availability than others and will have access to these “preferred seats”. As of now, UA only charges $4-$10 for aisle/window/middle seats when purchasing basic, but all regular economy passengers have access to the entire seat map sans Economy Plus/First for free. Once and if UA actually announce this, you can use this title. Slightly misleading from your part…

  4. @ Antonio — Out of curiosity, what other conclusion do you draw? That only corporate travelers will be able to assign seats in the forward part of regular economy, and you won’t even be able to pay a fee to sit there? The way I see it, there’s no other logical conclusion.

  5. @ Lucky, maybe in high-traffic business markets UA will grey out preferred seating or will reserve some if they know the traffic is coming. I understand where you are coming from, it’s a matter of changing the title of the article and not misinforming your readers from something that hasnt happened yet. Even adding the word “hints” to the title helps

  6. All this does is encourage people to not reserve a seat in advance and then just get the better seat for free at check-in or the gate. It’s amazing the number of people who are assigned Main Cabin Extra, Comfort + (or whatever), at the gate because all of the cheaper seats are already assigned.

  7. This is just too confusing. I don’t fly Spirit because I would have to research lots of stuff before booking. I generally know that Spirit is a cheapskate but I would have to research if there’s a fee for credit cards, printing a boarding pass, luggage (no question), carry on baggage under the seat, carry on baggage overhead, water, or any other fee.

    Eventually, airlines may charge a set base fare. For seat 6A, it would be $59 more, 6B would be $48 more, 6C would be $59 more, 7A would be $58 more, 8A would be $56 more.

    I would rather a fee be based on weight that all these weird fees.

  8. I do wonder if at some point an airline will consider “overbundling” fares, instead of “unbundling” them. It would seem more consumer friendly, and might even increase revenue. Instead of starting with a low base fare and charging for seat assignments, bags etc., the airline will display a fare that includes a ton of stuff you might not want, and then you remove items you don’t want, and the fare decreases. Rather than a ULCC fare that starts at $50 and rises to $100 by the time some passengers add what they need; start the fare at $100 and drop it to $75 if you remove your checked bag etc. Most people wouldn’t remember to remove stuff, so surely more money for the airline. Maybe if WN needs more ancillary revenue in the future, it could be their model? Everything is “included”, but you choose to remove things you don’t want.

  9. I saw this on a recent flight. I was scheduled to take UA4750 YUL-IAD last week, serviced by an Embraer 145 by UAX. After booking the ticket and, as part of that process, initially picking a seat further back, I noticed that a section of the forward cabin was marked as “preferred” seating. As a *G, I was able to pick a seat in that section without charge. Only 1A and 3C/D are United Plus seats, but ExpertFlyer shows the rest of the forward cabin blocked out. Those were the Preferred seats on the flight.

    Anyhow, it seems like what’s discussed above would be an expansion of this system. Perhaps it’s not all monetization, but just a perk for various elites? (Yes, I know, seems doubtful… one can always hope…) Or one that non-elites can buy into, while elites continue to get

  10. Everyone is denouncing Kirby for all the things he does to ruin the passenger experience, and rightly so. But do you think he cares at all about that? He does not answer to passengers; he answers only to shareholders who care only about short term profits.

    If only WN flew to more of the airports I need to fly to.

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