United Re-Introduces Economy Plus Subscriptions and Launches Checked Bag Option

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United Airlines started selling subscriptions to Economy Plus seating (a more spacious version of its regular economy seat) starting at $499 per year and checked bags starting at $349 per year, so that rather than paying for improved seat selection or checking bags on a per-itinerary basis, flyers can choose to bundle these services into their overall airline ticket overhead.

While most of the media hailed this as a ground-breaking, new thing, United used to sell Economy Plus subscriptions up until March of 2012 when they officially merged with Continental. I’m assuming they had greater issues to work on integrating the airlines, but they’re back now and selling Economy Plus with several different pricing options, as well as adding a baggage subscription as well.

United has introduced subscriptions for Economy Plus seating and checked bags.
United has introduced subscriptions for Economy Plus seating and checked bags.

This is sort of like the introduction late last year of American’s new Choice Fares where customers can choose to bundle privileges like priority boarding, bonus miles and waived change fees into the cost of their individual tickets, but United is the first US carrier to offer to offer year-long subscriptions like this and there are choices of both region where you can have advanced Economy Plus seat selection and/or free checked bags. You can also subscribe as a single traveler, with a companion, or at rates that include you and up to eight travel companions on the same reservation. The one-time initiation fee of $50 is being waived right now.

Here are the details on pricing for each of these subscriptions:

Economy Plus Subscriptions

Continental US (excluding Hawaii/Alaska) North and Central America Intra-Asia excluding Tokyo NRT – Singapore and Honolulu-Guam Global
Single Subscriber $499 $599 $499 $699
Subscriber and one companion $699 $799 $699 $899
Entire reservation of Subscriber and up to 8 companions $899 $999 $899 $1,099

The value proposition here is a little bit difficult to calculate since Economy Plus seat selection can cost anywhere from $9-$215 depending on your itinerary. However, to put an easy round figure on it, let’s say that on the routes you’re flying most, Economy Plus seat selection, which you can pay for at time of booking, costs about $50. If you’re just interested in the single subscription, you’d need to fly at least 10 one-way flights to make a subscription worth it, while if you purchase the companion subscription, you’d need to fly at least 7 of these flights together with your companion where you both wanted Economy Plus seat selection.

Is advanced access to Economy Plus really worth at least $499 a year?
Is advanced access to Economy Plus really worth at least $499 a year?

In terms of elite status, United Premier Silvers get Economy Plus seat selection at time of check-in for themselves and one companion while Gold and Platinums get Economy Plus access at time of booking for themselves and one companion, and 1K’s get Economy Plus access at time of booking for themselves and up to 8 companions on the same reservation. I’m sure they aren’t happy about this new program, because it will make available Economy Plus at check-in (24 hours before departure) even more rare. Perhaps United is hoping that a fair number of Silvers purchase these packages, but I’m skeptical that will happen.

If you’re flying enough to make one of these subscriptions worth it, you are probably well on your way to earning elite status, and while one of these subscriptions might make sense for Silvers who want to have access to Economy Plus selection at the time of booking rather than having to wait for check-in, I still think you’re better off purchasing Economy Plus seating on a per-itinerary basis…or switching your flying habits if possible to another airline that will let you have advanced premium seat selection earlier.

Elite flyers get Economy Plus access anyway.
Elite flyers get Economy Plus access anyway.

Checked Bags Subscriptions

Continental US (excluding Hawaii/Alaska): 1 bag/2 bag North and Central America Intra-Asia excluding Tokyo NRT – Singapore and Honolulu-Guam Global
Subscriber $349/$399 $499/$549 $399/$449 $799/$849
Subscriber and Companion $449/$499 $599/$649 $499/$549 $899/$949
Subscriber and up to 8 companions $649/$699 $799/$849 $699/$749 $1,099/$1,149

Currently, if you’re a United flyer with no elite status, you pay $25 for your first checked back within the continental US and to Alaska and Hawaii, and $35 for your second bag, so in terms of the single subscription, you’d need to be checking 2 bags on 7 domestic flights in the continental US in a year in order to make this subscription worth it, or 10 flights to Alaska and/or Hawaii. Chances are if you’re flying that much, however, you’re likely going to hit elite status at some level and even the lowest-tier Silver Premier passengers get 1 checked bag of up to 50 lbs for free while Gold, Platinum and 1K’s all get 3 bags of up to 70 lbs to check for free. You also get a free checked bag by carrying either the United Explorer or two with the United Club card. Personally, I’d rather pay the annual fee of $95 on the Explorer, which is waived for the first year, than $349 for a year of being able to check one bag on flights or $395 for the United Club card where you get 2 free checked bags plus access to United clubs.

All in all, these subscriptions don’t seem like great values to me, though I suppose there is a certain popular of somewhat frequent flyer that may want to pay for the convenience of better seats without the eye-popping cost of paying for first class. They might make sense if you don’t have elite status but are planning to fly a lot this year and want to enjoy some of the perks, but personally, I’d rather take my chances on a ticket-by-ticket basis before committing to a payment plan in the hundreds of dollars.

What do you think?

Here are the terms and conditions for each of the new subscriptions:

Terms & Conditions of United’s new Economy Plus subscription.

Subscription purchase and use:

  • Subscriptions are non-refundable and not transferable.
  • Subscriptions will expire on the date indicated on the term at purchase of the subscription.
  • Economy Plus is offered on select flights operated by United and United Express.
  • Economy Plus seat requests and specific seat assignments are not guaranteed.
  • Subscriptions may be customized to benefit additional travelers on the same reservation as the subscriber. Travelers not covered by the subscription benefits are subject to additional charges.
  • Flights must be scheduled to depart within the subscription period.
  • The subscriber’s MileagePlus® number must be included in the reservation in order to receive the subscription benefits.
  • Subscription prices are subject to change without notice. An initiation fee applies for all new or expired subscriptions.
  • United reserves the right to amend, cancel, or modify these terms, conditions, and pricing at any time with or without notice.

Subscription upgrade:

  • Subscriptions may be upgraded at any time.
  • Upgraded subscriptions are valid for one year from the time of upgrade.
  • Any unused value from the previous subscription will be applied to the upgrade price.

Renewal and auto-renew:

  • Subscriptions can be renewed 30 days prior to its expiration.
  • Subscribers enrolled in auto-renew will be charged for the renewal 30 days prior to its expiration to the form of payment on file at the price effective on that day.

Gift activation:

  • Gifts must be activated within 60 days of purchase. Gifts not activated within 60 days are automatically activated and expire in one year.

Termination:

  • The subscription offer is made at United’s discretion and is subject to change or termination at any time.

Terms and Conditions for Checked Bags:

Subscription purchase and use:

  • Subscriptions are non-refundable and not transferable.
  • Subscriptions will expire on the date indicated on the term at purchase of the subscription.
  • The baggage subscription applies only when checking bags on a journey originating with a United or United Express flight that departs within your subscription period. When checking bags with another airline, you will be subject to the other airline’s baggage policies and fees.
  • Fees for overweight, oversized, excess, odd-sized bags, specialty items, and sporting equipment may apply. For more information visit united.com/baggage
  • Subscriptions may be customized to benefit additional travelers on the same reservation as the subscriber. Travelers not covered by the subscription benefits are subject to additional charges.
  • Flights must be scheduled to depart within the subscription period.
  • The subscriber’s MileagePlus® number must be included in the reservation in order to receive the subscription benefits.
  • Subscription prices are subject to change without notice. An initiation fee applies for all new or expired subscriptions.
  • United reserves the right to amend, cancel, or modify these terms, conditions, and pricing at any time with or without notice.

Subscription upgrade:

  • Subscriptions may be upgraded at any time.
  • Upgraded subscriptions are valid for one year from the time of upgrade.
  • Any unused value from the previous subscription will be applied to the upgrade price.

Renewal and auto-renew:

  • Subscriptions can be renewed 30 days prior to its expiration.
  • Subscribers enrolled in auto-renew will be charged for the renewal 30 days prior to its expiration to the form of payment on file at the price effective on that day.

Gift activation:

  • Gifts must be activated within 60 days of purchase. Gifts not activated within 60 days are automatically activated and expire in one year.

Termination:

The subscription offer is made at United’s discretion and is subject to change or termination at any time.

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