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United expands pre-order meals, allowing for more entree choices

Jan. 22, 2022
4 min read
United Airlines Boeing 737-800 takeoff from SFO sunset
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Bon appétit, United flyers.

“What’s your first meal choice? What’s your second meal choice?”

Frequent United flyers are accustomed to flight attendants asking them for their meal preferences, but you never know what you’re going to get until it’s on your tray table.

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United flight attendants provide meal choices based on status, at least in theory. For example, if a Million Miler orders chicken, they’re going to get chicken. Sorry, general MileagePlus member. You may also want chicken, but you’re getting pasta.

Related: What to expect for food and drinks on your next flight

Clearly, this system, which has been used for decades, has winners and losers. With the hope of attracting high-paying customers, United realizes that it needs to provide everyone with their first meal choice when possible without having food go to waste. Lengthy discussions over this have finally pushed United to implement a preordering meal feature, which other airlines like Alaska Airlines and Singapore Airlines have done for years.

Related: How to get maximum value from the United MileagePlus program

Domestic first-class meals

  • When flying over 1,500 miles and departing from Chicago (ORD), Denver (DEN), Los Angeles (LAX), and Washington, D.C. (IAD), you may receive an email five days before departure inviting you to preorder a meal.
  • After receiving this email, you will have up until 24 hours before the flight to select a meal.
  • If you receive an upgrade within 24 hours of your departure, you will not have the opportunity to preorder your first-class meal.

As reported by Live and Let’s Fly, you should have more domestic first-class meal options if you choose to preorder.

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For example, on their sample flight from Washington, D.C. (IAD)-to Los Angeles (LAX), the following preorder meal choices were available:

  • Roasted vegetable enchilada
  • Grilled chicken
  • Italian ragu
  • Mediterranean falafel bowl
  • Signature butter burger

Customers also had the opportunity to choose one of these options:

  • I will decide onboard
  • I will eat in the United Club/Polaris lounge
  • I do not want to eat

Generally, there are two or three entree options once onboard, so it’s nice to see that five entree choices were available for preorder.

Related: United bringing back special meals

United Airlines domestic first class meal. (photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)

Domestic economy meals/snacks

  • When flying from Chicago (ORD) to Honolulu (HNL), you may have the opportunity to preorder a meal or a snack. This could also be an option when flying over 1,500 miles from Orange County (SNA), Sacramento (SMF) and San Diego (SAN).
  • To select a meal or snack, you will need to view the trip in the United app or on united.com. As per the screenshot below, if a meal or snack is available for purchase, “snacks for purchase” will be illuminated in blue font and underlined. After selecting “snacks for purchase,” you will be able to check out and pay for your meal directly on the app or website.
  • Premier 1K and Global Service members will be able to select a meal or snack free of charge.
  • It is unclear whether or not you will receive a refund for any unused food purchases if you cancel or reschedule your flight after buying food in advance.
(Photo courtesy of United Airlines)

Related: United passengers can now pre-order meals, snacks and drinks on select flights

Bottom Line

Although preordering food with United was originally announced prior to the pandemic, we are just now seeing the implementation of this software. With more entree choices available, first-class flyers will be much happier. In economy, based on my experience, the food cart is completely picked over by the time it reaches halfway down the aisle, so the ability to reserve a snack or meal and have it delivered to your seat is a phenomenal development for travelers in the economy cabin as well.

Related: Everything you need to know about United Polaris business class

We look forward to seeing this feature available throughout United’s network, and we highly recommend that you preorder your meals if you can.

Featured image by United Airlines Boeing 737-800 takeoff from SFO sunset (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
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  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
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  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023