I’m not super-picky when it comes to air travel.
Many consultants demand Business Class or First Class seats as part of their contracts, and while I definitely see the rationale—time is valuable, reducing the frustrations associated with traveling allows one to be fresher and more at their best, etc.—it’s never felt right to me to push those kinds of requirements onto our clients who are already making substantial investments in our fees.
And so, I often look for ways to minimize travel expenses. But boy did I get nailed by that recently.
Surprise! You Can’t Sit With Your Wife…
Not long ago, I booked flights for my wife and me (she works closely with me these days) via Expedia to go spend some time with one of our clients. We looked at a bunch of different options that were all roughly in the same price range, and ultimately made our decisions mostly around departure and arrival times.
It was only after I booked the flights that I got an email from United “reminding me” of the restrictions on the “Basic Economy” fare:
Oh. You wanted to choose your seat? We’re sorry. That privilege is reserved for people who paid more than $100 for the upsell to “Economy.”
Footnote #1 reads:
Seats are assigned prior to boarding, and customers traveling together, including families, may not be able to sit together. Advance seat assignments may be available for purchase during booking and up until check-in opens. Prices start at $5, based on route and availability. You will also not be eligible to purchase Economy Plus® seating or premium cabin upgrades, or receive Economy Plus subscription benefits. With standard Economy, customers traveling together can choose seats together if open seats are available.
Oh. Did you plan to actually sit next to your wife on the plane? We’re sorry. That privilege is reserved for people who paid more than $100 for the upsell to “Economy”
Oh. You wanted to bring a carry-on bag with you on the plane? We’re sorry. That’s only available for people who weren’t too cheap to pay for “Economy” tickets.
Mind you, I knew I couldn’t change the flight. I also noticed the nonrefundable nature of the tickets. These aspects of the airfare I chose were clear.
But these other restrictions were not clear at all during the checkout process at Expedia. And I pay attention to details like this, as a rule.
After tweeting about it, United was quick to let me know that I could potentially pay for the privilege of selecting seats:
United: Show Some Basic Courtesy and Make This Clear, Will You?
In my opinion, if you’re going to compete with other airlines on a marketplace like Expedia, you should go to great lengths to inform passengers when basic privileges like selecting a seat and taking a carry-on with you aren’t included in your fare. The other airlines whose flights I passed over because the times were slightly less convenient included those privileges at the price point that I paid.
There were 2 major indications (after the purchase, of course), that things were awry.
The first was that I got an email from Expedia announcing that my seat assignment process had encountered an error. Funny. I don’t recall selecting seats. Hmmmm…
Then, the email (screenshotted above) from United which purported to remind me of the restrictions came in. That is how you draw attention to the differences between fares—not by hiding it in all the mouse-point type that a user has to click through in order to complete the booking process. (And I’m being generous here. I’m making the assumption that this information was actually in the mouse-point type on the page. Obviously, I can’t go back and confirm.)
I did skim the information presented to me at the time and didn’t notice these restrictions. Had they been obvious, I would’ve noticed it and chosen different flights.
Anyway, that “reminder” email from United Airlines went on to ask for feedback since this is a “new fare,” and it was immediately clear to me that they were trying to head off problems before I arrived at the airport and learned that I had none of the few remaining basic privileges that a passenger should be able to expect.
So now I’ve spent $76 in fees just to select the seats we’ll be occupying for our flights so that we don’t end up being “automatically assigned” the least-desirable middle seats on the plane. But even after doing that, it doesn’t appear that we can bring a full-sized carry-on bag aboard the flight. Thanks a lot, United.
I’m not the only one who has noticed just how bad the “Basic Economy” fare from United is:
United Airlines Basic Economy fares are more restrictive and punitive than any of the other US carriers. From having to see an agent at the airport to check-in when not checking a bag to not getting a carry-on bag to the worst seats being automatically assigned to basic economy passengers at check-in — United’s Basic Economy is the worst.— The Points Guy’s “How To Survive Basic Economy on United Airlines“
After this experience, and given United’s response to my Tweet, they’re going to the bottom of my list. Right down there next to Spirit Airlines, where apparently they now belong.