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Getting it wrong


A recent tweet by one of the Skift managers caught my eye. This related to the recent-ish move by United to have "Basic Economy" fares in their online listing - and that in certain instances, the cost of a "Basic Economy" fare and a "Standard" economy fare were the same.

As a travel agent, of course, I knew the answer to this. The clue being in the "fare as part of a return journey" part. Or at least, so I thought. Closer examination of what was going on, here, proved that I was, in fact, contrarily orientated in the matter.... or to put it another way, wrong.

Having looked more closely into the matter, it would appear that it was all down to a rather cack-handed, sorry, "challenged" approach to unbundling fares on the part of United.

I think we are all agreed that getting a good seat (or even a seat of choice) and having a hold bag are reasonable items to remove from a basic fare (assuming that one accepts unbundling, of course) but where does "unbundling" turn from being sensible and start to become a rather inane feature, smacking of desperation?

The difference between the economy/ basic economy fares on United starts from $10 - and these fares, incidentally, are only shown if you are booking on the US version of the United website. Sabre does quote the fare, but any fare quote on Sabre starts from what United would call a standard economy. Understandable, given that most people from overseas are likely to have some kit with them.

The United "basic" economy fare means no seat reservation at all, not even by paying money, no changes or refunds, no full size carry on bag and if you travel as a family, no guarantee that you sit together. In fact, United highlight this as "Sit with your group or family - No".

I usually apply some tests to any unbundling features, one of which is: "Can I reasonably expect to manage without the feature?" For example: A hold bag and a choose a seat? - Okay, I don't have a hold bag and Hey! It's an hour or so out my life (so, short haul, not long haul!). Am I likely to want to change anything? If I have analysed out the "why" of the reasons for my travel, I can make that decision. (That said, some European Star Alliance carriers had to rethink the "No Changes, not even for money" element as people could pay very high fares and having a "no changes" fare was considered unreasonable). No mileage points? No problem.

What about: "Not sit with family or group"? To my mind, this does not pass the "reasonable" test. If I am travelling with a 4 year old child, then splitting up parent and child is wholly unreasonable; not only that, it is potentially dangerous (if there were an emergency, would a parent wish to be separated from their child?). Even if travelling with a group, splitting that group would appear to be more an action of spite rather than anything else.

"No full size cabin bag". Great! Erm.... define "full size" - so I take the maximum size for a cabin bag, make mine 5 cms shorter on each side and Hey! It's not full size! One can imagine gate agents having great fun with that one, as much as many irate passengers arguing the toss on what constitutes a "full size" bag.

"No changes". As mentioned above, this became the subject of a rethink in Europe for many airlines, for it depends on how much could be paid for a ticket at this very basic fare level. If you pay no more than, say $50 for a short flight, then not having any changes could be said to be reasonable. If you could pay potentially $500 for the same flight at the same fare benefit level, then the feature does become unreasonable. It is a matter of degree. United (indeed, any airline considering this aspect) needs to weigh the matter of degree element very carefully.

Then, of course, we come to the real killer (sorry, United, but it is) as shown, here:

United Flight Selection

This neatly gets me back to that tweet; the remark being something along the lines of people getting very irate if they choose the wrong type of economy. No further comment is really needed, here.

United need to rethink their unbundling and need to apply at least the test mentioned above, as well as others. There has to be a logic to fares, at least, in applying tests in terms of what you get for your money as well the reasonableness of the elements taken out of, or included in, any fare. Fares need to be transparent (or at least, as transparent as an airline fare can be). There is another issue, of course and that is procedural clarity in any online fare buying source as to how a customer may build a fare to suit their requirement; most are built taking into account the selling of elements from an airline, rather than a customer, perspective.

United, you are a great airline .... but here, you need a re-think!

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