United: Are You Sure You Want These Low Fares?

An airline industry first took place this week. An airline, United, sent out a communique asking travelers if they really wanted to buy their lowest fare. The email began with “Basic Economy fares, which were created for our customers who may be more price-sensitive and come with some important restrictions, may not be for everyone…”. Translation: These low-priced fares were created for kids going to visit their Grandma, not corporate travelers like you.

While we couldn’t agree with the sentiment more, it’s just a little strange to see such honesty in print.

United, along with the other majors who have recently added the ultra-low price tier as a defensive move against actual low-price carriers like Frontier and Norwegian Air, are trying to have their cake and eat it too. It remains to be seen if the move will be successful. This tactic along with the recent trend to sell moderately-priced upgrades is using up inventory that used to be available for free upgrades by their elite customers. Will trying to capture the low-end market damage their frequent flyer brands?

And what about the ill will caused when business travelers get stuck with nonrefundable tickets they can’t change, or any of the other possible disappointments that come with the restricted product? We’ll leave it to United to make that case… “With these fares now available in all domestic U.S. markets, the chart below shows some key differences you will want to review carefully before making a booking or formalizing travel policy decisions.”

The airline goes on to suggest clients ask their travel agency to remove the fare type from GDS fare search displays and searches within online booking tools.

Obviously, there are many, many corporate travelers who wouldn’t be happy with the restrictions above. However for short trips, and companies on a tight budget the Basic Economy fare might be “just the ticket”.

Best to educate your travelers to the difference, and decide on a case-by-case basis.

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