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United reserves Economy Plus seats for proven customers

Over the past five years, frequent flyers have watched—first with horror, then with disgust—as most airlines opted to set aside considerations of long-term loyalty in favor of chasing short-term dollars.

Bucking that trend, United yesterday instituted a new policy that puts the interests of its best customers, Mileage Plus elite members, ahead of the interests of those willing to pay top dollar for unrestricted coach tickets.

Specifically, effective September 12, United restricted access to its Economy Plus seats—the roomier seats in the first few rows of the coach cabin—to Mileage Plus elites, United Global Services members, those purchasing an annual Economy Plus Access package, and flyers who purchase an upgrade when checking in.

Previously, Economy Plus seats were also automatically given to travelers who purchased full-fare coach tickets (Y, B, M, E, and U classes).

As a result of the new policy, Mileage Plus elites will face less competition for the limited number of Economy Plus seats. That’s good news for now. Better news would be that the nickel-and-diming of recent years is being supplanted by a focus on upgrading benefits for proven customers. That remains to be seen.

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