United Airlines passengers will soon have the option to pay more for assigned seats on board. These are not the Premium Plus premium economy nor the Economy Plus extra legroom seats. The “Preferred” seating section will sit behind those and be an option for selection starting in Q4 2018. This news was obliquely referenced in today’s announcement of the new United Corporate Preferred program at GBTA in San Diego.
United will be offering preferred seating in the economy cabin on all of our aircraft in 4Q2018. These seats will typically be closer to the front of the aircraft behind United® Premium Economy and Economy Plus.
This approach is similar to that of American Airlines, driving incremental ancillary revenue while reducing the seats available to be assigned for free, even for travelers on non-Basic Economy fares.
The new United Corporate Preferred (UCP) program includes three status tiers: Regular, Plus and Elite. A company’s tier is determined by corporate contract size and share premium. Companies that qualify at the Elite level will be able to offer their employees complimentary access to these Preferred seats as well as increased travel waiver flexibility and priority boarding (Group 2).
The UCP program also adds an additional factor to consider in the upgrade priority list: corporate contracts. For the upgrades United Corporate Preferred status will be an additional tie-breaker, coming after passenger elite status, fare class and the co-brand credit card (though that only applies to the higher priced “Club” card, and it does not appear to be in place today). As a fourth tie-breaker it is unlikely to come into play too often, but it still may affect prioritization in some cases. It is unclear if status within the UCP program will come into play for this upgrade priority.
Similarly, flight standby lists will take UCP status into account when prioritizing passengers. Travelers whose companies spend more with United Airlines are more likely to clear on to that earlier flight to the next meeting or home. The reaccommodation systems will also prioritize UCP travelers during flight disruptions, giving them greater consideration for alternate flights.
The Elite level of the program also offers significantly expanded travel waiver flexibility. Travelers will now be eligible for rebooking to any destination in the same state during an waiver scenario. Passengers can also rebook the same city pair on any date within the validity of the ticket (i.e. one year from issue) or transfer the full value of the ticket to a new city pair without change fee. This is arguably the most significant benefit for corporate travelers, or at least for their travel department. It stops short of making tickets fully flexible but the increased options during waivers will likely save significantly on fees over time.