United Airlines is expanding access to its Economy Plus extra leg room seating option. The carrier now offers passengers the option to purchase it directly in search results, appearing akin to a distinct class of service between economy class and business or first class on board. But it is not a different cabin of service. And that’s just one of the ways the implementation is a wee bit wonky.
The overall approach similar to how Delta Air Lines positions its Comfort+ offering as a “premium economy” cabin offering on domestic itineraries. But Delta sell C+ as a separate cabin with separate fare classes. United chose a different approach, allowing any of its economy class fares to also book into the Economy Plus cabin for an upcharge. A similar upcharge applies to make the ticket refundable.
While the United website only intermittently appears to be offering the E+ fares for sale, the company has been selling them via Google flights for some time. That interface shows the option consistently.
The pricing is the same, but the way United accounts for it carries a subtle difference.
When booking via Google Flights the underlying fare changes. That also means the E+ seat fee is no longer considered ancillary to the purchase. United must pay the 7.5% US Transportation Tax on that part of the purchase, negating some of its margins. When sold directly on the United site, the Economy Plus fee is listed separately and not taxed.
The different sales channels and fares also come with different rules.
The Google Flights version, where E+ is part of the base fare, explicitly states that in the rules. It also explicitly states that the fare is not available on any of United’s smallest regional jets, as those planes do not offer the Economy Plus cabin.
The booking fare class also switches to “B” regardless of the underlying fare basis, which is an interesting quirk.
Rolling the seat upgrade fee into the base fare also means passengers who book that way will earn more MileagePlus points when traveling, since flights on United earn based on the fare rather than the distance.
Finally, United typically does not have a single price point for Economy Plus seating. But when purchasing it as a fare component only one price can be charged. United picks a mid-range value to use. Astute passengers will want to check the a la carte pricing to verify if the seat they intend to choose is less expensive via that method.
Only 12 of the 48 E+ seats on United’s MAX9 configuration price above the $171 E+ fare/bundle cost on a Boston-Los Angeles trip, for example.
Perhaps none of this really matters, other than United trying to drive up revenues through the more distributed selling of its Economy Plus cabin. But it speaks to the challenges airlines have in adapting legacy systems to sell new products.
A favor to ask while you're here...
Did you enjoy the content? Or learn something useful? Or generally just think this is the type of story you'd like to see more of? Consider supporting the site through a donation (any amount helps). It helps keep me independent and avoiding the credit card schlock.