Airline "unbundling" of formerly "free" features and services has been big lately. You've all heard about new and separate fees for so many services that you've lost count -- services that you once took for granted as part of the base price. The current list, at least on some lines, includes checked baggage, seat assignments, exit-row seats, pillows and blankets, meals and snacks, making an online reservation, and even taking a bag onboard. Now, however, you suddenly see some new repackaging. The big difference is that what was once "free" in the old bundled fares now costs extra as a package.
-- The base "Premier Travel" package provides access to extra-legroom "Economy Plus" seats, speedier security lines, earlier boarding, checked baggage, and bonus frequent flyer miles. Basically these are services that "elite" frequent flyers get without paying extra. This option is available at 70 larger U.S. airports.
-- "Premier Travel Plus" adds access to
United claims that you can "save" as much as 50 percent with these packages. That depends, of course, on whether you'd otherwise buy all parts of the package separately. I tried a test trip from
-- Premier Travel would add
-- Premier Travel Plus would add
Of course, these calculations do not give any credit to the mileage bonuses or to early boarding and priority airport lines, which would give another edge to the packages. And differences would vary by route.
My conclusion: Neither package is a good deal if you don't check any bags; the base package is a good deal only if you assign some value to the airport benefits, and the complete package is a reasonable deal if you check at least one bag and want Red Carpet access. Both look much better if you want to check two bags.
United's other package covers two checked bags on every flight for a full year for
Delta, too, is getting in on the act. Buy your tickets with a Delta Skymiles AmEx card, and Delta waives the usual
Clearly, United expects its several packages to be "revenue positive," gaining more revenue than trying to sell the components separately. So far, I haven't seen any similar packages from other airlines. But I'm sure other lines will be looking closely at what happens at United. As I've often noted, at most airlines, corporate planning largely means "me, too."
Whatever the airlines' motives, as a consumer, checking out each package is relatively straightforward. Determine the cost of whatever services you really want and compare those separate costs with the package price. If the prices are close, the package is probably a better bet because of the minor benefits that you wouldn't buy, separately, but would make your life a little easier.
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(c) 2010 Ed Perkins
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