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Earlier this week, Delta launched what they call their Smart Travel Pack option, where SkyMiles members can purchase a bundle of benefits such as free checked baggage and priority boarding. It costs $199 to purchase for travel between September 16, 2013 and January 5, 2014, and is only available online to non-Medallion members since most of these benefits overlap with Medallion benefits. Once purchased, the benefits of the Smart Travel Pack will be included for any travel during the promotional period when customers include their SkyMiles number in their reservation.
Delta’s new Smart Travel Pack includes:
Complimentary Preferred Seats, when available, on domestic and international flights
50% domestic Economy Comfort discount at booking, complimentary at check-in
25% international Economy Comfort discount at booking up until check-in
Customer receives Zone 1 priority, unless the customer qualifies for a higher boarding priority
20% mileage bonus on Delta operated/marketed and Delta Connection flights for the purchaser of Smart Travel Pack
First checked bag is free
Up to 8 companions in addition to the purchaser in the same reservation will receive these benefits with the exception of the 20% mileage bonus that will only go to the purchaser, so if makes more sense to buy if you are planning to travel with a large group and no one has Medallion status.
If you have a Delta American Express co-branded credit card such as the Delta Gold, Delta Platinum, or Delta Reserve cards, you are eligible to partake in this offer, however you would not be able combine multiple benefits such as getting two fee checked bags free (one for being a cardholder and one for purchasing the Smart Travel Pack).
In my opinion, this is yet another erosion of elite status- especially for lower tier elites that value these benefits. Now anyone without elite status can cough up a couple hundred bucks and get the prime seats and priority boarding that elites had to “work” for. I understand the need for airlines to bring in new revenue streams, but they have essentially recreated Silver Medallion benefits and sold them for a reasonable price. I assume this is a test trial, because the time-frame is a little weird and there is no mention of buying the Travel Pack in the future. I bet if they can launch this with little to no backlash from their elite members, it will become a regular offering- something several of their competitors have done as well.
United Annual Economy Plus Subscription
United offers flyers an annual membership for Economy Plus, its roomier economy seating section, with an annual fee of $499 not including a $50 initiation fee (though currently waived).
Flyers who partake in this offer will be able to select Economy Plus seats on all flights only within the continental United States (excluding Hawaii and Alaska). If you want to extend this benefit for North and Central America it is $599 and if you’d like to be able to take advantage of this globally it’s a whopping $699 per year.
It’s hard to imagine this fee would be too cost effective for anyone, because if you are flying so much to justify needing it – ie you would be spending this much money upgrading to Economy Plus seats anyway – then you are most likely a Premier member of the airline’s mileage program, and Premier Golds, Platinums, and 1K’s can select complimentary Economy Plus at booking while Premier Silvers can choose these seats for free at check-in domestically. With the Annual Economy Plus Subscription, there are no additional benefits such as any extra mileage earning opportunities or baggage fee waivers.
American Choice Fares
American introduced its new system of Choice Fares earlier this year, and it resembles the Smart Travel Pack in that passengers can “upgrade” their fare to included bundled benefits, but Choice Fares are a per-trip and even per-leg option, so you can buy them a la carte, and there are two tiers – a basic one and a more premium one. Here is what each includes.
1. Choice Fares: These are basically the discounted economy fares as they are today – the least expensive way to get from point A to point B with no extras added on. You pay fees to make changes and you accrue miles normally.
2. Choice Essential: For an additional fee of $68 roundtrip, these fares will include 1 checked bag, Group 1 priority boarding and no change fees.
3. Choice Plus: These fares cost $20 above Choice Essential (so $88 above Choice/Regular Fares) and have the same three perks as Choice Essential plus a 50% AAdvantage mileage bonus (not Elite Qualifying Miles), waived same-day confirmed flight changes, same day standby and a premium beverage (including alcohol).
Change fees are waived, but if the fare on the new ticket is higher, the customer will still have to pay the difference in fares. If the fare of the new ticket is lower, you will be issued a credit in the form of an airline voucher. If you purchase one of the Choice Essential or Plus fares, you can change your ticket as many times as you want without a fee. These fares do not include Priority AAccess for security, and priority boarding is Group 1, which comes after Priority AAccess boarding.
American does not offer any sort of annual subscription like Delta’s Smart Travel Pack or United’s Economy Plus Subscription.
So how do these three benefit bundling systems stack up against one another? Let’s compare them by a few criteria.