United simplifies the Wi-Fi pricing structure, adds day pass option
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United’s onboard Wi-Fi offering has had its fair share of ups and downs over the years.
But for most flyers, the latest move from the Chicago-based carrier will be a welcome improvement.
Specifically, United is now charging a simple flat fee for internet access across all of its domestic and short-haul international flights. This updated pricing model replaces the variable structure that the airline used to offer based on flight distance and duration.
Wi-Fi access on all eligible flights will now cost $8 dollars for all MileagePlus members (regardless of Premier status). Those who aren’t enrolled in United’s frequent flyer program will be on the hook for a $2 upcharge, bringing the total to $10. A carrier spokesperson confirmed to TPG that the changes began rolling out in late December.
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United‘s simplified pricing model applies on a per-segment basis, so flyers with connecting flights will need to purchase additional access passes on onward flights. (Note that this is the same policy as before the move to flat-fee pricing.)
In addition to the revamped Wi-Fi pricing, United now offers free messaging on internet-based chat platforms, like WhatsApp and iMessage, without needing to purchase a pass.
Historically, United‘s pricing could top $40 on some of the longest domestic flights. In fact, before the pandemic, I kept track of the cost of my United Wi-Fi purchases, which I’ve included below for reference.
|Newark (EWR)||Charlotte (CLT)||$10.99|
|New York/LaGuardia (LGA)||Denver (DEN)||$22.99|
|San Francisco (SFO)||Newark (EWR)||$40.99|
|Brussels (BRU)||Newark (EWR)||$20.99|
|Houston (IAH)||Newark (EWR)||$20.99|
|Seattle (SEA)||Newark (EWR)||$18.99|
|Miami (MIA)||Newark (EWR)||$18.49|
|Chicago (ORD)||Newark (EWR)||$17.99|
|West Palm Beach (PBI)||Newark (EWR)||$11.99|
|Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)||Houston (IAH)||$8.99|
|Newark (EWR)||Los Angeles (LAX)||$24.99|
|Chicago (ORD)||New York/LaGuardia (LGA)||$18.99|
|New York/LaGuardia (LGA)||Chicago (ORD)||$17.99|
|Newark (EWR)||West Palm Beach (PBI)||$11.99|
|Newark (EWR)||Phoenix (PHX)||$18.99|
|Denver (DEN)||Phoenix (PHX)||$10.99|
|Tel Aviv (TLV)||San Francisco (SFO)||$31.99|
|Newark (EWR)||San Francisco (SFO)||$31.99|
|Denver (DEN)||San Francisco (SFO)||$17.99|
|Newark (EWR)||San Jose, Costa Rica (SJC)||$6.99|
|Newark (EWR)||Tel Aviv (TLV)||$16.99|
As you can see, premium transcon flights from Newark to San Francisco were historically some of the most expensive, coming in at $40.99.
Going forward, the only flights that will feature variable Wi-Fi pricing will be those operating on long-haul routes.
Along with the dramatically simplified pricing structure, the airline is also rolling out a new day pass that lets flyers pre-purchase internet access during the “manage my booking“ process.
The day pass is available for purchase on single-passenger itineraries where the traveler is a MileagePlus member flying within the U.S. mainland.
You can find the new day pass offering directly on the United website or mobile app when accessing your eligible booking. While the option to pre-pay for a day pass is a new offering from United, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend purchasing one.
After all, the day pass isn’t being sold at a discount. Plus, it’s nonrefundable, so if you decide that you won’t use the internet on a given flight, you won’t get your money back.
United‘s Wi-Fi is priced on a per-device basis, per eligible flight. You can switch between devices at any time, or you can purchase a second access pass to simultaneously browse the internet on more than one screen.
As United rolls out this revamped pricing, it falls more in line with the offerings from Delta and Southwest. The former is working towards making Wi-Fi free for all passengers, similar to JetBlue, but in the meantime, it’s selling internet service at $5 per device, per flight.
Southwest, on the other hand, sells Wi-Fi for $8 on all domestic flights.
American Airlines continues to charge for internet access based on flight distance and duration.
The only major losers with United‘s new pricing model are those who purchase monthly subscriptions. Previously, it may have only taken two or three domestic flights to make a monthly pass worthwhile, but it’ll now require more flying to justify the cost. (United charges $49 for a monthly domestic pass and $69 for a monthly global pass.)
While United’s fleet is outfitted with internet connectivity, getting a stable connection has historically proven to be a challenge on select aircraft. (Note that the airline is generous about offering refunds for poor service.)
United uses four different Wi-Fi providers across its fleet, with varying levels of reliability and speed. The best is Viasat, which is installed on select Airbus A319s, Boeing 737-900s, 757s and the 737 MAX 8 and 9.
As part of the comprehensive “United Next” campaign focused on fleet renewal, the carrier promises to install “the industry’s fastest available in-flight Wi-Fi” on all newly delivered jets.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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