A worthwhile airline fee program? Don’t buy it

Dragon Images/Shutterstock
Dragon Images/Shutterstock
The introduction of a new airline fee program is reigniting an old debate about the true cost of air travel.

Earlier this month, United Airlines unveiled “subscriptions” that let you prepay for a year’s worth of baggage fees, seat upgrades or airport club access. The plans start at $349, for which you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation may check up to two bags per flight, and cost up to $500 or more for annual access to United’s 45 airport club locations and other select partner lounges worldwide.

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“Our customers tell us that they value comfort and convenience, and our subscriptions enable us to provide both year-round,” said United spokeswoman Karen May. “We intend for these subscriptions to be long-term offers.”

The timing of United’s announcement might have been better. Just a few weeks before it introduced the subscription plan, the Transportation Department had quietly released its 2012 report on baggage fees collected by airlines. The report showed that United earned $705 million for the year, second only to Delta Air Lines’ $865 million. All told, the domestic airlines raked in a record $3.5 billion in luggage fees.

If you’re a little confused about how much air transportation will cost after factoring in baggage charges as well as any other extras, then the subscription-based fee program is unlikely to help.

Airfares are rising — that much we know. For 2012, the average airfare cost a record $356, up from $343 a year before. Fees are also rising. Passengers spent an average of $10 in change fees and $13 in baggage fees (also records). But we don’t know precisely how much prices have jumped overall, once you factor in all the fees, because airlines aren’t required to report all this revenue to the government as separate numbers.

Since 2008, the major airlines have aggressively “unbundled” such items as luggage fees and seat reservation fees from their ticket prices, a clever marketing strategy designed to make the cost of air travel appear lower. At the same time, they’ve often failed to clearly disclose those costs at the point of purchase, leaving passengers with the impression that they were getting a deal. The resulting confusion has been a windfall for most airlines, which collected billions of dollars in fee revenue over the past five years.

Having a luggage-fee subscription injects yet another layer of complexity, making it harder to determine the actual price of air transportation.

Interestingly, this appears to be a recycled idea. United shelved a similar program in March 2012, after its merger with Continental Airlines, for technical reasons. But that didn’t seem to dampen the reaction to its reemergence from airline watchers.

“I think this will be very successful,” predicted Jay Sorensen, whose IdeaWorks consultancy advises airlines on fees. “From the airline’s perspective, it’s a home run. The consumer pays for the benefits up front, so of course they’ll return as a consumer whenever they’re shopping for air travel.”

Sorensen, who estimates that United earned a total of $5.3 billion from all fees last year, or about $38 per passenger, also notes that the airline raised some of its rates when it reintroduced the subscriptions. For example, an annual pass that gives you a space-available upgrade to United’s Economy Plus section, where seats have about as much legroom as they did in coach sections before airline deregulation in the 1970s, jumped from $349 to $499. That’s likely to further help the bottom line of the world’s largest airline.

But passengers are skeptical. Some are even hostile to the idea.

“I have two words for United,” says John McNeal, a retired financial crimes and fraud prosecutor who lives in Chicago. “And they are not ‘Happy Birthday.’ ”

Nora Graves, a software programmer in Purcellville who flies infrequently, says that the numbers don’t make sense to her. She would have to take a total of 14 flights to break even on a $349 subscription. Even if she checked two bags, it would still require six flights. “I find it very discouraging that airlines think that making travel more miserable is going to improve their customer base,” she says. “They need to fly anonymously, back in steerage with the rest of us. Then they might understand why their business models aren’t working well. Maybe it can become a new reality TV show?”

Some frequent business travelers scoff at the subscription idea, too.

“The thing everyone keeps saying is ‘If I flew enough for it to be worth it, I’d buy it,’ ” says Ann Wolfer, a frequent traveler who works for the military in Wilmington, Del. “Well, if you fly enough for it to be worth it, like I do, you would get free bags and Economy Plus access. You don’t get club access, but with connections down to 30 to 40 minutes, I rarely would even have an opportunity to use it.”

But others like the concept of a subscription model for fees and are open to trying it.

“I think that is a great value,” says Nick Prewett, a college administrator in Lawrence, Kan. “If you travel enough.”

For example, a family of four on vacation checking four bags could break even if it checked five bags each way, he says. The only trick would be to fly enough to check the 14 bags that would be required to recoup your investment, he says.

But loyalty program expert Tim Winship says that it’s probably not worth the risk. He crunched the numbers and concluded that subscribers would probably fall into one of two categories: “mathematically challenged” or in denial about how much they travel. And he urges passengers to take a closer look at United’s subscriptions before buying one. “Do the math,” he says. “Volume discounts only yield savings if you actually use the product often.”

For me, the most troubling part of United’s subscriptions is the way the airline brushed off my detailed questions about the program.

Several passengers raised concerns about the fine print on the subscriptions, which gives United broad permission to “amend, cancel, or modify these terms, conditions, and pricing at any time with or without notice.” The airline refused to answer specific queries about the program contract, instead e-mailing me a vague statement from a spokeswoman, which I included at the top of this story. I guess we’ll have to take the airline at its word when it says that it won’t cancel the program again.

Add it all up, and it makes the benefits of United’s subscriptions dubious, at best. Air travelers may find them useful if they fly enough, but they probably won’t if they already have elite status, because they already get most of these perks. Why pay twice for the same thing?

But the rewards to United are undeniable. It gets to collect money from you upfront, can further obfuscate the real cost of its product, and best of all, if it changes its mind, it doesn’t even have to give you what it promised.

Is United "subscriptions" a good investment?

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65 thoughts on “A worthwhile airline fee program? Don’t buy it

  1. I’m a little puzzled as to why United is being criticized for coming up with a completely optional program that might actually save some people money. I just did a dummy booking on United’s website and the program doesn’t appear as an option. So, it’s not like they’re pushing this on unsuspecting leisure travellers.

    Perhaps I have more faith in the reasoning skills of United’s customers. Frankly, you’d have to be an idiot to pay $349 for something unless you know it will be used. Provided United isn’t pressuring people to buy, I don’t see what’s so bad about this program.

    1. It’s relaying on said idiots or mathematically challenged. There are people that do not see beyond what is shoveled at them and proceed to throw their money away. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen this and then get asked, “well is there anything you can do?” Welp if yo would have educated yourself first to realize you do not have to pay for this program I would not be having this discussion with you now. (Not that I would say this to them, but you know this is what is going through my mind as I listen)

    2. I think the concern here is that the fine print allows the airline to change or cancel this program for any reason. Of course, if that were the case, the right and ethical thing would be for the airline to issue a pro-rated refund of the unused subscription period. Does anyone, anyone at all, think the airline will do that unless it’s forced to, thru a lawsuit?

    3. If you are flying frequently enough to get benefit from something like this – as a poster up above noted, this is 14 flights for an individual flyer checking one bag every time – you may already be an elite level flyer. And elite level flyers get free baggage anyway.

      I flew more the year I was on crutches and cane, and checked my bag regularly. I did NOT fly 14 times. My husband flies for business (well, flew, he just changed jobs to a no-travel job – yay!) – for someone who flies at least every other month, you tend to get good with your carry-on even if you’re not an Elite flyer, so I’m not sure of the benefit to anyone but United.

      Otherwise, this is very much a “Oh, you wanted TIRES with that car?” program. Sure, it’s $350 for a single traveler checking one bag. But if you go over to the site and look at the options, it gets bumped up to $400 if you want to regularly check two bags (actually, there is a $50 initiation fee currently waived, so in a few month’s time, it’ll be $400 for that one person checking one bag, $450 for two bags).

      If you want to add a second person, it adds $100 to the package. (So $450 for two people to each check one bag, $500 for two people to check two bags.)

      If you want to do this for your family (a party as large as 8), then you fork over $650 for one bag each, $700 for two each). And these are just domestic fees – they add on for international flights.

      I will say that the last option is a decent deal, if you have that party of 8 flying twice as a unit within a year, each of them checking a bag or two. With the standard baggage fees you will save ~$150 bags. But I don’t see that scenario happening too often, so I – and others – see this as a way for United to make money. It’s not even a loss-leader – it’s a perceived benefit.

      1. I also doubt the brady bunch scenario for this reason: families now consolidate their stuff into a single bag or at most, two bags at 50 back-breaking pounds each and then everyone, even a 2 year old, gets a 23lb roller bag. This is why the gate area looks like a bus station.

        I’m a contrarian rebel so I like to have NOTHING if possible when I get on a plane. It confuses everyone around me when I have my hands totally free. I wonder if I’m going to get profiled by security…

  2. Just one more example of United (and other airlines) trying to make life miserable and then making you a fabulous offer to elieviate that pain for a fee. I’m really tired of the caste system the airlines have created where Elites and.those with highly disposable incomes or expense accounts are faund over. They seem to always get these fees waived and get better customer service, while the rest of us are treated like those “other people” they have to put up with. Trying to fly to Europe next spring and want to use miles to upgrade to Business Class and they are charging me $1700 for a “Service Fee” since I’m no longer in the correct caste because if I were an Elite, those fees would be waived. I have not flown on a UA flight in over 2 years, so I am in the ‘Untouchables’ caste. I just want to use my accrued 350,000 miles and be done with them for good. Loving Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic and Jet Blue. Proves the customer can talk with their pocketbook.

    1. FYI – my husband was an Elite on NW and then Delta for years – vacillated between Gold and Silver, but usually Gold. They don’t waive those service fees, and we stopped trying to use miles to get seats years ago. We had twice the number of miles needed to get first class seats mid-week in February to SFO on what was then a pretty much empty flight. The “only” seats available were separated middle seats in the back of the plane, and there was a service fee.

      I think you have to be like a George-Clooney-Up-In-The-Air level Elite flyer to get the really good perks now.

    2. This is false. Using miles for an upgrade requires a co-pay regardless of status. If you want to use up your miles, try using them for an Business Class award ticket rather than an upgrade.

    3. Here’s a wicked idea: Request an elite challenge and get temporary status. Then fly, fly, fly and burn, burn, burn your miles while you’re elite. Then walk away.

  3. I couldn’t vote. The answer is, it depends on your travel habits. I don’t know the specifics of how United operates. But I can relate. I paid $250/yr to Hertz to upgrade from 5 star to President’s circle. Why? I drive Full sized SUVs, but pay for a cheaper Full Size sedans. As a 5* member I would get an upgrade if available. And some locations were very stingy about upgrades. As a President’s Circle member I was guaranteed an upgrade to at least a premium and usually a full-sized SUV at no additional charge. The difference between a Full Size sedan and a Full Size SUV was always around $140/day. Thus 2 days of rentals at the stingy locations and I made my money pack. Simple grade school math.

  4. Like others the answer is ‘It Depends’. I don’t get upset when companies offer optional extra cost programs. It I think is is worth the price I will pay. If not I will not. People should not get upset when a business caters to their best customers.

  5. The subscrption program is the beginning of the new elite status, except instead of that elite status being awarded to you, you will pay the airline and the airline maintains your loyalty, so that you can maximize the benefit of the subscription you paid for. They have finally learned that instead of giving away status for loyalty, they can sell you status, and keep your loyalty to use the benefits you’ve paid for, If you’ve paid for status perks like free baggage, lounge access and pseudo premium seats, that you can only take advantage of with that airline. It just incentivizes you to fly with that airline as much as possible.

    1. This answers the question above: why would a elite member buy this program when they get these benefits for free now? Because the airline has started selling the benefits and will stop giving them away for free in the not too distant future. I’d bet on it.

      1. I don’t know. Businesses that run loyalty programs are hesitant to upset their “best” customers. The trend has been to increase the benefits for the higher tiered elites. The other trend is to give non-frequent fliers the option to buy elite benefits for cash

        1. When referring to air travel we’re not really customers the way were office supply customers who can buy from Amazon, Office Depot, Walmart and a lot of options in between. What are the options for flying domestic now; 2 mega legacy carriers and a handful of regional carriers? Pull up any itinerary and almost always the legacy carriers are among the cheapest, with fare differences of a few dollars. Even on international flights that originate in the states, the US legacy carriers are among the cheapest. When it comes to price it’s become the choice of crummy airline 1 or crummy airline 2. They know we don’t reallly have options unless we’re flying between a small pool of heavily traveled cities, and can fly a regional.
          If they got rid of the FF and elite status programs, people would still fly, and they would still fly the same airlines, because they are the cheapest and they fly where we need to go.

          1. Airlines apparently disagree with you. Much of the revenue generated by airlines is from the business travelers who travels between the heavily traveled cities. Crummy airline 1 wants to steal as many of those high revenue travelers from Crummy airline 2. As a result each airline is increasing its high revenue offerings to attract those customers.
            For the business travelers, while cost is always an issue, its not necessarily the sole determining factor.

            For example, I have a trial in 2 weeks, in one of those heavily traveled cities. I purchased a one way ticket at a cheap price because I know when the trial starts. But my return ticket is a fully refundable ticket because I don’t know when the trial will conclude. The return ticket will cost almost three times the cheap advance purchase ticket. But the flexibility to change tickets and avoid worrying about standby issues is worth it.

          2. For the places my wife and I fly domestic, we have a choice of three regional carriers (Jetblue, Spirit, Southwest) and the legacies. We flew Delta once because I was buying tickets “last minute” and they were the best priced. We then packed our carryons to the limit and checked at the gate for free. The rest of the time, we’re with Jetblue or SouthWest (I would avoid flying Spirit unless it was a ridiculously low fare, so far, I have never flown with them.) Since we’ve had different travel needs for where we were going, we have largely flown a variety of carriers and couldn’t accumulate loyalty. It makes no sense to work on a loyalty program and spend more for a legacy airline when qualifying requirements have been so tightened. So ironically, the legacies discouraged me from caring about their business BECAUSE of their loyalty programs!

  6. Is it a good investment? It depends. I usually don’t buy extra privilege deals unless they pay for themselves at the time I am buying them. Amazon Prime absolutely ! It saves me a bundle in time and shipping, Staples new deal for ink and recycling, paid for itself first order. But I would have to have certain plans for enough flights on United with enough luggage to even consider a deal. I’d also need to see the fine print about code shares. Most of my past United flights have been code shares with foreign airlines – will the luggage fee that I pre-paid to United also cover the luggage fee with the next airline? I have gotten caught up in the dichotomy between the first airline and the longest distance airline and see this as a potential sticking point. (And please don’t tell me to pack less, these were humanitarian missions carrying donated medical goods – I was grateful there was room on the plane for the extra gear regardless of the cost.)

    1. I would never tell anyone to pack less. I understand that people have differing needs as far as luggage amounts than I do and if you are traveling on business you can sometimes end up with what feels like a plane load of stuff you have to drag along. I just don’t like dragging all that stuff around with me and waiting at the baggage claim so I travel only with a carry on unless I absolutely have to have more stuff. But every trip I go on I find I need less stuff.

      On the other hand, I don’t see the benefit of the Amazon program. I am happy to choose the standard free shipping option and wait a week for my items to arrive.

      1. Amazon prime is a Godsend for some. It all depends on your needs. Getting office supplies in two days saves a staff member from going to Office Depot getting paid for the trip. Buying online from the office stores requires a minimum purchase to get free shipping. Amazon has a substantially wider assortment of goods and with no minimum purchase with prime. Its awesome.
        I almost felt bad when I purchased scotch tape and a pack of envelopes from Amazon. The total was $6.00. Its came Fedex 2 day.

  7. I seriously doubt most people would get their money’s worth out of the baggage or economy plus programs. Besides, if you flew enough to equal or exceed the costs of these programs, you probably would be at the Silver Elite level where you get all this free anyway.

    I feel the baggage program is the worst. You not only have to pay at least $349 for just yourself, you have to pick which part of the world you are going to be flying in which if you fly anywhere out of that area you have to pay the baggage fee anyway. And there is a $50 “initiation” fee! And the $349 does NOT include Alaska of Hawaii! Ha! So if you want global coverage for you and up to 8 of your best friends or family members all flying together on the same itinerary, the price jumps to $999. That’s a lot of flying to break even.

    The Economy Plus option is not any better. Starts at $499 and has the same restrictions and extra costs maxing out at $1099. And what makes this even worse is that if you get lucky, you will end up in Economy Plus seats anyway at no charge if the plane is full and there is no place for you to sit in regular economy.

    The funniest thing about these two is that they offer “discounted” subscriptions for Elite level flyers. But why would any Elite Level flyer want to purchase these since they are both included with your status?

    The airport club charge is nothing new. This has been standard since last century. They do allow using your miles to pay for membership now which is recently new for UA. There is also the $50 “initiation” fee for the membership. The thing they don’t tell you on the UA web site is that if you get the United Club Access credit card which only costs $375 a year, access to the clubs is included at no additional cost and no “initiation” fee so you save $175 going that route.

    1. if you flew enough to equal or exceed the costs of these programs, you probably would be at the Silver Elite level where you get all this free anyway
      Unless your flights are commuter flights in which case you have a lot of small flights and may not generate the miles required to qualify for elite status

  8. I think we should look at it the way United looks at it…….they are offering a program that will cause people to force themselves to fly United over the next year. People buy this “service” then they will attempt to fly United whenever they have to fly. They will look at United first whenever they have to go somewhere. It breeds loyalty to the company the way Frequent Flier programs used to do…..the difference is, they make a few bucks on the front end.

  9. Just another reason why I stopped flying United to Europe. Ever since the merger the perks for frequent flyers have gone by the wayside. United = greediness at its best.
    At least on Lufthansa I can checked one bag for free.
    And when I am in the US…I guess I will start flying Southwest.

    1. I just flew to Paris and back on Air Canada via Montreal, my first time on AC. Wow, what a better experience than UA ever was and at only one third the price UA wanted. I will fly them anytime I can in the future.

      And for the first time ever an airline held a plane for me! (Well, it was me and 49 other connecting passengers.) The flight back from Paris was an hour late and I had to connect to a US bound flight. In Montreal, you clear US customs and immigration before going to your plane so you don;t have to once you get to the US. Everything went super smoothly in the Canadian side, plenty of people working, people who knew what needed to be done and everything just worked efficiently. As soon as I stepped into the US processing area, everything went into slow motion. There are 100 stations for US Border control. There were only 4 agents working and at least 100 people in line. Also, there is no separation of US passport holders and others. It takes a significantly longer time for them to process the non US passport holders. It took me 10 minutes to get from the plane all the way to the checkpoint including filling out forms. It took over an hour to get through the border control line. By the time I got through at an hour past departure time, I fully expected to see my flight gone, but it was still there. Thanks AC even though I know they were just not wanting to have to put us all up for the night at their expense.

      1. Immigration is not within the airline’s control, so overnighting would *not* have been at the airline’s expense (though they would have had to find alternate transportation for everyone). A number of connecting passengers that large will often get a plane held.

        1. True. But the plane being an hour late arriving in YUL in the first place because a flight attendant was late getting to the airport which held the departure of the flight out of CDG is under their control. If the flight had been closer to on time, most of us would have made the connection without the wait.

    2. United may be greedy, but you can check one bag for free on international flights, just like Lufthansa.

      People are perfectly entitled to fly whoever they want and have whatever opinions they want, but there is an awful lot of bad information used to “justify” those opinions.

      1. I used to be a very loyal United customer. Normally I was Premier Executive/Gold. I was Premier/Silver when the merger happened. Pretty surprised when the rules changed – before I could get my Economy Plus seat when I purchased my ticket. Now I can only get it 24 hours before – when I check in online. I have no desire to end up in a middle seat even it is in Economy Plus.
        A lot of us experienced the changes first hand…so we are not relying on “bad information.”
        It is a shame. I always thought United was a good airline before the merger.

        1. Well, now it is Continental.

          Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying your feelings are not justified, nor was that comment directed at you alone. But when you say, “At least on Lufthansa I can checked one bag for free,” you are implying that you cannot even get that on United, which is false. That is “bad information.” That’s all I am saying on that.

      2. When I flew with United a few years ago international to Europe, I don’t think the first bag was free but, to their credit, the online checkin was great because I could register my checkin bags for a buck, yes, a buck each! So my wife had us register 2. However, after getting on board I found out that alcohol wasn’t complimentary in economy class. I’ve largely avoided US legacy carriers on international flights since then although I have read that United relented on the first bag and alcohol fees for economy class.

        And that’s tale reveals a lot of the problem with this anecdotal information: United eventually came around but the bad taste they left in customers’ mouths (in my case, literally not being able to justify to my wife spending $10 to have a champagne toast for a trip to Europe) earns them a bad reputation.

        I read about the CEO’s for these legacy carriers getting monstrous packages such as million dollar bonuses and lifetime (yes, lifetime) free first class flights. It offends me and makes me ashamed to be an American. I could rationalize these robber barons if they were improving service and price, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s not been terribly difficult for me to find competitive prices from carriers with free bags.

  10. You didn’t say and I didn’t look it up,but I bet the United subsciption is automatically renewed every year. So if you don’t keep up with it, you end up paying for a year when the math might not work out as well.

  11. Nothing wrong with a private company offering consumers a choice. That’s our modified system of capitalism. All the consumers need to do is to reject it, and it will go away. There is nothing wrong with United offering flyers a choice and nothing stupid about consumers rejecting the program.

    Better options, I think, are American’s fare plans for each trip. So depending on your circumstances, baggage or not, changes or not, same day flight change or not, etc., you can make an intelligent decision for that precise trip. No prepaying for unknown trips in the future. You buy a la carte, rather than on a bulk basis where the services may be unwanted or unneeded.

    1. UA still offers the al la carte options. I don’t think they are as extensively customizable as AA is, but you have the choice.

  12. They aren’t bad deals but there are better deals. I don’t travel enough anymore to have status on UAL but travel enough to make elite status and club rooms handy. The Chase Club Card for $400 a year to me is a good value. I can use any united club and get two free checked bags and get travel insurance (emergency evacuation etc) and priority check in and boarding. I do 6-7 short trips a year and it comes in very handy and to me it’s worth it for the club access alone but the free baggage is a benefit and so is priority boarding since otherwise I would be in boarding group 4 usually.

  13. Only if you fly a lot, and I mean a lot, might these offers be useful or worthwhile. Paying for extra legroom ahead of time is risky. If irregular operations occur (weather, mechanical, airplane changes) take place, you might be protected on another flight but your extra-legroom seats might not (probably will not) be available……or you might just luck out and “default” to economy plus because all other non E+ seats are already taken. Just pay (or don’t) as you go along by availability –, so much easier than shelling out money in advance and not getting what you paid for.

    1. If you fly a lot then you will most likely be elite anyway; and MIGHT be able to get all of this for free. So unless United is thinking about shafting their elites and monetizing every perk possible, then this new plan seems to be for the non-elite or who do not travel enough to get perks.

      1. UA is always thinking about monetizing everything. The have changed their Elite tiers for 2014 to include a cash spent amount along with the miles/segments flown in order to get recognized as being in that level. I am expecting the benefits given to Silver and Gold Elites to also shift upward so that the E+ and baggage subscriptions might become something those level flyers will need.

        1. This is actually following Delta, who went with this model first. Theoretically speaking, it makes sense to reward customers who bring the most revenue into your business.

          1. I’m an elite and I agree with both of you. Elites can be some of the biggest babies when things go wrong or they don’t get x,y,z.

      2. Yes, you’re right, as others here have stated…..fly a lot = most likely elite with these perks anyway. All I can think of is what came first, the chicken or the egg ?

    1. There is a maximum of EIGHT passengers per reservation, unless it is a group reservation, according to my foggy memory; therefore, they would want them to take out THREE subscriptions. There is always a catch on everything.

      1. And they would have to book their flights is 3 corresponding groups for the coverage to apply. Sounds like a headache.

  14. I was platinum on CO and 100K on UA in the past, but switched to NW/DL because I like the service I received. Just booked a ticket last week on UA and was offered the credit card. Gives me priority boarding and 1 free bag (along with the $50 statement credit), Used it for the first time yesterday: boarding group 3 and $25 for the one bag I checked. I questioned the agent at the ticket counter when checking in: if you physically have the card with you I can give you the free bag – otherwise, take it up with management! He’d like to help me – because he is extremely customer service oriented, but if he did he’d have to answer to management about accepting a free bag.
    Boy, that really makes me want to book another trip!
    I can get the $25 back with a letter to UA, but it doesn’t bode well for customer service.
    The agent explained there must be a glitch in the computer system. Funny, the credit card already shows up in my Chase profile – and I did not have to tie it in.
    Just doesn’t seem to work out.
    UA if you want my FF number, just ask.

    1. Gary, I had the explorer card as well initially but there is a bit of a delay between signing up and geting the benefits (for me it was a few weeks). I just upgraded to the Club Card and booked a flight 5 days later and all my benefits showed up on that flight. Sounds like a fluke.

    2. Did you use the new card to purchase the ticket? It didn’t sound like it from your post. You have to purchase the ticket with the card and the benefits are then supposed to be automated. Just having the card does not matter. It must have been used to purchase the ticket.

  15. BTW, I booked on Wednesday for Saturday travel. You want to know why I don’t physically have the credit card with me?

  16. Although it is best to evaluate each program based upon individual merits, I can see where one flying frequently might opt for this program.
    However, one issue that may come up is the fact that United appears to have several planes which do not have the “United Plus” seating. I just recently took a trip which had four legs – two each way. I purchased the plus seating on each leg, which of course significantly increased the price., I was okay with that. However, on the second leg, they must have had an equipment switch and the seating which I paid for was not available. Although I am expecting a refund for that leg, in this program, one would simply just have to do without it and this may cause frustration. Therefore, if you are figuring out whether to sign up for the program, be sure to include an allowance for flights which will not have the desired seating available.

    1. That is a big concern because many of the former CO planes have still not been refitted with true United E+ seat layouts. They just call exit rows and bulkhead rows Economy Plus on those planes. But I can see where that would cause frustration for those who purchased the E+ subscription but end up flying mostly on CO planes that have no E+ seats. Since you didn’t pay specifically for E+ on a specific flight, you don’t get any refund if you don’t sit in that section.

  17. It’s a good investment for some and not for others. What’s wrong with that? I personally like to have choices.

  18. Chris … This maybe much to do about nothing. I think you caught a change in marketing and not a change in what’s offered. The UA Club (in its many forms and names) has always been offered for annual sale. I also remember seeing an offer from UA (pre-merger) with very similar details. If I remember correctly, they were selling annual Econ + upgrades, priority boarding, priority security & 1 bag per reservation with a bunch of packages.

    This might make sense for someone just starting a road warrior position where they know they are going to travel a ton but haven’t accumulated the miles yet or a large family. Otherwise, its a PT Barnum exercise.

  19. United is a horrible airline to begin with so no issues with this program. I fervently work to avoid this airline as it stands.

    I would be interested to see which airlines best accomodate passengers over 6 feet tall. (United does not do this well)

  20. A variation on this idea has been launched by Tiger Airways (based in Singapore) and Jetstar (Qantas subsidiary). You join their “club” for about $40 per year and hear about cheap deals earlier than the general public or are offered “exclusive” sales. Is it worth it? Probably not unless you are certain that you want to travel with those airlines.

  21. Its a shame to see such airlines doing this. European low cost carriers already charge for everything under the sun, you end up spending the flight feeling like you are caught in a never ending sales pitch and what you thought was a good fare in reality ends up more expensive then some of the leading airlines by the time you factor in all the additional charges.

  22. I’m sure there is a small segment of the population who could benefit from this program. Sadly, I think United is hoping that more people are stupid enough to sign up for it then those who would actually benefit from it.

  23. Netrate Concepts -airline fee program AMEX

    Recently, American Express sent out a letter to cardmembers with this
    information. The letter also asked cardholders to review their
    accounts and advise if any credits had been missed. Tips for using
    American Express’ website search tools to look for airline charges and
    related credits were enclosed as well.

    Purchases eligible for the $200 credit include checked baggage fees,
    overweight and oversized baggage fees, itinerary change fees, phone
    reservation fees, seat assignment fees, and in-flight purchases such as
    beverages, food, headphones, entertainment, and pillows and blankets.
    Also included are airline lounge day passes and annual memberships as
    well as fees for pets.

    Purchases that are excluded from the program include in-flight Internet
    charges, fees charged by partners of the enrolled airline, airline
    tickets, upgrades, purchases of miles, fees to transfer miles and
    points, gift cards, duty-free purchases, and fees related to award


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