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Another New Fee, Courtesy of United Airlines | Frommer's United

Another New Fee, Courtesy of United Airlines

About five years ago, Saturday Night Live scored some laughs with a skit that parodied "priority boarding" announcements at the airport gate. A uniformed Tina Fey and Taran Killam stood behind a podium and called upward of 20 different categories of flyers before they got to "Group 2" as their SNL castmates grew comically agitated waiting to board. Back then, it seemed like the madness at the gate couldn’t get any more absurd.

It has.

Last week, United Airlines announced that it is adding yet another seating category.

Called Preferred Economy, it is almost benefit-free. Book it and you won’t get more legroom, priority boarding, or any of the perks of United’s other high seat types. All that’s offered with this new class is a seat farther to the front of the plane (though still behind Economy Plus seats, which, one assumes, will be pricier tickets than these).

To be fair, it is not just United messing with passengers in this fashion. Delta and American already have their own versions of these classes. United may be the only one, however, trying to play this new fee off as an improvement, at least for some of its passengers: Some mileage award members will be able to score these seats without paying more, as will members of a new corporate perks program.

For the rest of us, this change will mean more fee-charging steps to negotiate during the booking process. To ensure that you don’t end up spending more on air travel than you anticipated, here are a few strategies:

  • Make sure you understand all potential fees before booking a flight. Google Flights and other search engines are now including this information, sometimes in a box next to the price that one can click.

  • Look to Southwest Airlines. The carrier doesn’t appear on many flight search engines, but its largely fee-free structure means that the first price you see when searching for a flight is likely the one you’ll get.

  • Prioritize what’s important to you: saving money or comfort. Just because an upgrade is offered doesn’t mean it’s worth the money. If the flight is shorter than four hours, will it really be so bad to sit in a middle seat or have to debark after other passengers? Remember: A flight is just the means of getting you to your destination. There will likely be fun items you’ll want to buy later—meals, tickets, entrance fees. Instead of paying extra fees on the plane, why not treat yourself once you arrive, and for the flight, simply immerse yourself in a good book?