When Is a Boarding Perk Not a Perk?
United recently reduced boarding groups from seven to five, causing outrage among many frequent fliers worried about longer lines to board. Now with even more travelers able to access premium boarding for a few bucks, you have to wonder if hard-earned elite-level perks are being diluted.
(Read more: OMG! Elite United Passengers Board With Masses)
Having flown 14 United flights so far this year, I've noticed just how packed the first two boarding groups can be, often resulting in as many passengers with Premier Access as those in general boarding.
United said it will limit the number of passengers who may purchase Premier Access to ensure the benefits are available to the airline's Premier-level frequent-fliers and eligible credit card holders, according to the press release.
"Our objective is to find a process that makes boarding as efficient as possible, and we're not opposed to making changes and experimenting a bit until we settle on the process that works best for travelers and co-workers," said Rahsaan Johnson, United's director of public relations, in January when boarding groups were reduced from seven to five.
Here's how the new boarding groups work:
Those who purchase the new Premier Access option will be assigned to Group 2 boarding. United's Global Services members, Premier 1K, Premier Platinums and first- and business-class passengers board in Group 1. Premier Gold, Premier Silver and credit cardholders board in Group 2, along with those purchasing Premier Access. Groups 3-5 are reserved for general boarding.
Other Airlines Also Sell Priority Services
United isn't the only carrier selling priority airport services to non-elite travelers.
JetBlue sells Even More Speed access to expedited security lanes at several airports. Delta offers priority boarding as an add-on fee under its Trip Extras program, also starting at $9 per flight.
And Southwest Airlines recently added an option to board early for $40. (Read more: Southwest Adds $40 Fee for Early Boarding)
Holding elite status with an airline certainly still has its perks. But with more airlines selling priority services to all travelers, the gap between road warriors and occasional travelers is narrowing.