United Airlines Now Offering Annual Subscriptions For Upgrades

The baggage and Economy Plus subscriptions vary greatly depending on where you plan to travel.

The baggage and Economy Plus subscriptions vary greatly depending on where you plan to travel.

Just about everything on an airplane that used to be part of the ticket price is now considered an “upgrade.” Now United Airlines is offering regular customers a chance to buy subscriptions that cover a year’s worth of checked bags and access to less-uncomfortable Economy Plus seats.

United Subscriptions currently offers three upgrades that can be paid for on a yearly basis — checked bags, better seats, and club access.

BAGS
The baggage subscription pays for the holder’s checked bags for each flight for a year.

But it’s not as simple as just paying now for later flights. And the subscription itself can run anywhere from $349/year to $999/year, depending on where you travel and how many people you want to cover.

It starts at $349, but that’s just for travel within the 48 contiguous states. If you want to travel to other parts of North and Central America, add $100. Throw in a second bag and it’s an additional $50/year. You’re effectively locked in to whatever region you choose at the start, as an upgrade to a higher-tier region restarts the one-year clock.

Want your checked bag paid for during those overseas trips? That’ll be $450 on top of the $349, bringing you up to $799, though it automatically includes two bags in that fee.

Subscription holders can add on other travelers for more money. A subscription that includes one traveling companion’s bags will add $100/year to the cost. For $200 above the base subscription cost, you can have up to 8 additional travelers getting their bags checked for free. While you don’t need to name the travelers when you get the subscription, they must be on your same reservation in order to get the benefits. So don’t go thinking you can try to woo cash-strapped travelers with your sexy subscription.

ECONOMY PLUS SEATS
For travelers who feel cramped by the standard coach seats, there is Economy Plus, which translates into “a little more legroom for some extra cash.” But is it worth pre-spending that cash on an Economy Plus subscription?

Again, the prices here vary from $499/year to $1,099, all based on where you plan to travel and who — if anyone — you want to share your subscription with.

For the base price, you get access to Economy Plus seats (assuming they haven’t been taken by non-subscription customers when it comes time to pick seats; and provided you’re on a plane that has the seats) on domestic flights.

For $100/year more, throw in the rest of North and Central America. That’ll be $200/year more for global travelers. Like the bag subscription, you’re effectively locked into your region for a year.

Adding one other person to your subscription will cost you $200. Adding up to eight additional people will cost you $400 on top of the base rate.

The big risk if you’re buying the Economy Plus subscription with additional travelers, is that there is no guarantee that these seats will be available.

So while it might make good financial sense for a frequent traveler to buy a baggage subscription, the Economy Plus subscriber is taking the chance that she will get less mileage out of her subscription by the end of that year.

We’ll be interested to see if this model takes hold and if other airlines will follow suit.