United Launches Corporate Preferred, With Elite Perks, Upgrade Priority and More

Aug 13, 2018

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Do you feel like a second-class citizen when you’re flying US-based carriers? In some cases, that’s actually by design. Chances are you’re a leisure traveler, seeking the lowest fare available — the vast majority of per-seat revenue comes from corporate travelers, and it’s those individuals (and their employers) that the airlines favor most.

Oftentimes customers are recognized on an individual basis, through top-tier elite status (and sometimes even unadvertised perks), but carriers also recognize their enterprise partners, too, from small businesses all the way up to giant corporations.

Within hours of Delta unveiling its improved Corporate Travel benefits, United introduced a program of its own, called Corporate Preferred.

As United explains in its short intro video, Corporate Preferred is intended to benefit travel bookers and road warriors alike.

Just as with United’s consumer loyalty program, there are multiple tiers. Corporations will be assigned to a tier based on their spend with the airline, though it sounds like requirements are applied on a case-by-case basis. There are additional benefits awarded at each level, which only apply to United tickets booked through a corporate sales agreement:

United Corporate Preferred

  • Higher upgrade priority — functions as a “tie-breaker” after MileagePlus status, booking class and co-branded cardholder status
  • Higher standby priority — eligible customers rank higher on the standby list, with a similar “tie-breaker” prioritization
  • Preferred reaccommodation — customers are automatically rebooked on alternative flights if necessary, again with higher priority
  • Decreased likelihood of downgrade or involuntary denied boarding
  • Preferred seat protection — customers will be assigned a similar seat if at all possible in the event of an aircraft substitution

United Corporate Preferred Plus

  • Benefits currently match those listed above

United Corporate Preferred Elite

  • Travel waiver flexibility — fare difference waived when changing to a later date, or full ticket value can be applied to a new booking
  • Group 2 boarding when traveling in economy
  • Free access to “Preferred seating” just behind Economy Plus, launching in Q4 2018

It sounds like Preferred seating will otherwise be unavailable to some customers — Gold elites and higher can currently select Economy Plus seats for free at booking, so perhaps Silver members and Corporate Preferred Elite flyers will be able to grab Preferred seats during the same period. As United explains, “Customers will enjoy access to preferred seats in Q4 2018. These standard-legroom seats will typically be closer to the front of the aircraft behind United Premium Plus and Economy Plus.”

Bottom Line

While there are some benefits for travelers, like Preferred seating and Group 2 boarding, it’s unclear how often perks like upgrade and standby tie-breakers will actually make a difference. United’s Corporate Preferred program perks seem to benefit employers most — the extended travel waiver options have the potential to save employers quite a bit of money, in particular.

Overall, eligible business flyers will be a bit better off — and although American doesn’t have a formal corporate program of its own, now that Delta’s offering benefits with Air France-KLM, hopefully corporate benefits will be added to select United partners, too.

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