United has launched a new package of upscale amenities typically reserved for elite-level flyers. Dubbed Premier Travel (there's also Premier Travel Plus), the package continues a trend at the airline of selling perks one could normally access only through loyalty to the airline. Premier Travel includes:
- Economy Plus seating
- Early boarding
- Priority security line access
- Premier check-in line access
- Bonus miles equal to 25 percent of your flight miles
- First two checked bags free
Premier Travel Plus adds the following benefits:
- Red Carpet Club access
- Bonus miles equal to 100 percent of your flight miles.
Premier Travel starts at $47 each way and goes up from there, depending on the length of your flight; Premier Travel Plus costs extra.
As the Middle Seat points out, there is clearly some value here. Baggage fees alone can run upwards of $50. An Economy Plus upgrade on a short-haul flight will cost around $25. The primary perk of Premier Travel Plus, Red Carpet Club access, goes for $39. Add up everything included in Premier Travel, and you're getting a pretty fair shake.
But while the monetary cost of Premier Travel may work out in the average traveler's favor, it does come at the expense of United's elite frequent flyers—something United's elites are getting used to (reluctantly, I'm sure) .
Last year, United launched its Premier Line package, which took three basic elite-traveler benefits—priority security, check-in, and boarding—and offered them to the masses for a nominal price (The new Premier Travel package also includes these perks). At the time, our resident frequent-flyer expert Tim Winship called it "a decent deal for non-elite travelers," but said "elite members will inevitably experience an erosion of their airport benefits."
Premier Travel goes one step further: The complimentary checked bags, bonus mile accrual, Red Carpet Club access (low-level elites receive a discount off annual membership dues), and Economy Plus access are all elite-level benefits.
So what's the point of being an elite-level frequent flyer these days? That's mostly a rhetorical question, because I'm not sure. With any Joe Traveler now capable of buying numerous elite-level perks at a reasonable price, the incentive for chasing that almighty elite status certainly seems diminished, at least at United.
For the rest of us, Premier Travel seems like a halfway decent deal. What do you think?