Last week Polaris was news and it was a forward move by United, when considering the whole Polaris experience from airport to airport. This week the move is not quite so forward. See United’s official news release here about the rollout of the new Basic Economy fare. After reading the news release I felt elated, didn’t you? It was well written. For a second there I almost forgot what this news release meant. But alas, there’s no way to spin this in a positive way. Let’s discuss.
What you’ll see when booking a basic economy fare
When searching United routes to and from Minneapolis and one of UA’s major hubs, you’ll have the additional fare option. The site makes it obvious throughout the booking process that you’re booking Basic Economy, in some ways, a little too much. They definitely want to have the upper hand when someone calls complaining about not having overhead stowage.
There’s a link to a detailed comparison chart of the different fare types.
You must SELECT to purchase a Basic Economy fare. If you don’t check the box, the system defaults to a regular Economy fare.
Time after time through the booking process you’re reminded that you’re about to purchase the fare.
Yet again, bright colors point to the fare you’re purchasing.
I think it’s important for the consumer that legacy carriers compete with low-cost carriers. There’s a large sector of travelers who care not for amenities as much as the out-of-pocket ticket price. (Though I bet you these same folks end up spending about the same anyhow between fees and purchases). Still, competition usually benefits the consumer, so I support it. And yet, there should be a limit. First of all, the Basic Economy booking process is so obvious, so in your face, so orange… for me it was as if United kept asking “Really? Are you sure? It’s terrible! You really want to go through that?” Over and over… Then on the other hand I felt as though I was being pushed via scare tactics to purchase the regular Economy fare. I liked neither feeling.
But is Basic Economy really that bad? Many could care less about picking a seat, and travel light, and don’t mind boarding last, etc. So someone who has been flying with Spirit, for example, for a long time, might not see a big problem with what United -and the other legacy carriers- are trying to accomplish. The market is there. United, however, took things a bit too far, in my opinion.
One factor for sure makes United’s Basic Economy ‘really that bad’. In addition to the restrictions below, you will not receive Premier qualifying credit or lifetime miles; paid, earned, complimentary of mileage upgrades; or any Economy Plus seating benefits. There was a part of me hoping that this would be addressed prior to rollout. In practice, United is saying that even if I purchase United Basic Economy for the rest of my flying days, they don’t consider me to be loyal. Then what’s the point? The contradiction between United trying to earn loyalty and yet stepping on Basic Economy loyal customers is outrageous and absurd. I’m still hoping they’ll fix this. Will employers be willing to pay anything other than the cheapest available fare, just so their employees can attain valuable premier credit and upgrades? We’ll have to wait and see. At the very least, it’s a HUGE gamble from United’s part and a PR disaster.
Another concerning piece to this puzzle is the fact that United chose MSP to rollout the new fare, competing directly with Delta, MSP’s largest carrier, and thus setting itself up for failure, given that Delta’s basic fare is a better value indeed. I’m baffled. If that wasn’t enough, on many dates, Delta’s fares are less expensive than United’s to/from MSP per Google Flights.
In conclusion, it appears that United forgot the most important part of the formula to success, the customer. I surely hope UA management knows something no one else knows, because otherwise my job is going to become a whole lot more difficult.