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Is United Economy Plus Worth the Extra Money?

Flying can be stressful enough without being crammed into an economy seat designed for an average-sized person. But for taller travelers or those who need extra legroom for medical reasons, upgrading to Economy Plus on United Airlines flights can provide more space and comfort.

United Economy Plus offers several advantages over standard economy seats, including extra legroom, priority boarding, dedicated overhead bin space, and the chance for complimentary upgrades. But these perks come at a price, usually $30 to $100 per segment, so you’ll have to decide if the benefits outweigh the cost.

What is United Economy Plus?

United Economy Plus is a premium economy seating option on United Airlines flights that provides up to 5 inches of extra legroom compared to standard economy seats. This added space can make a big difference in comfort for tall travelers or those who don’t want their knees hitting the seatback in front of them.

Economy Plus seats are located near the front of the economy cabin, usually right behind first/business class. They provide the same width as regular economy seats but with the bonus legroom. United has Economy Plus seating on most mainline and regional jet aircraft.

On narrowbody planes like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, you’ll find Economy Plus in the first few rows right behind first class. On widebodies like the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner, they take up a few rows right behind business class.

Some key features and benefits of United Economy Plus include:

  • Up to 5 inches of extra legroom
  • Priority boarding so you can settle in sooner
  • Dedicated overhead bin space to store your carry-on
  • Seatback entertainment on international routes
  • Complimentary premier snacks on some flights
  • Chance for complimentary seat upgrades

Benefits of United Economy Plus

Extra Legroom

The hallmark perk of United Economy Plus is the extra legroom. Those few precious extra inches allow you to stretch out without your knees bumping the seat in front of you.

For taller travelers, Economy Plus can make sitting in coach bearable on long flights when every inch counts. Even average height passengers may appreciate the ability to move around more freely.

How much extra space do you get? On average, United Economy Plus seats have 5 inches more legroom than standard economy. But it can range from 3-7 inches depending on aircraft type.

For comparison, here are the typical seat pitches:

  • Standard United economy: 30-32 inches
  • United Economy Plus: 35-37 inches
  • United First/Business class: 37+ inches

That 5 inches may not seem like much, but it can prevent stiff knees and sore legs on long hauls. For taller travelers, it’s often the difference between knees digging into the seatback or being able to stretch out a bit.

Priority Boarding

As a United Economy Plus passenger, you’ll be invited to board in Group 1, 2, or 3 depending on your elite status. This lets you settle in without having to wait for Group 4 and 5 to slowly drag their overstuffed carry-ons down the aisle.

Early boarding ensures you’ll find space for your luggage in the overhead bins near your seat. And you can get situated ahead of the economy cabin crowds.

Priority boarding can be especially useful if you’re traveling with children or have a tight connection to make after landing.

Dedicated Overhead Bin Space

In addition to early boarding, United Economy Plus grants you access to dedicated overhead bin space above your seats. This guarantees you’ll have room for your rollaboards and spare you the headache of hunting for faraway bin space.

Overhead storage fills up quickly on crowded flights. By reserving space for Economy Plus flyers, United ensures you’ll always have room for your bags near your seat.

Not having to gate check your bags saves time upon arrival at your destination. And you won’t have to worry about lost luggage or damaged items that were checked at the last minute.

Seat Width and Recline

United Economy Plus seats have the same width as regular economy – between 17 and 18 inches. But since knee space is no longer limited, passengers may feel like they have more overall room.

You’ll also benefit from the same recline ability as standard economy, typically around 2-5 inches depending on aircraft. Again, the extra legroom makes this recline more useful since you won’t have your knees pinned against the seatback.

So while actual seat width/recline are unchanged, the spacious legroom makes Economy Plus seats feel roomier in general.

Chance of Complimentary Upgrades

As an Economy Plus traveler, you’ll be considered first for any complimentary domestic seat upgrades available on your flight. Airlines occasionally surprise select economy passengers with first class upgrades when seats are available.

Since Economy Plus passengers sit near the front, agents will look to them first when deciding who gets bumped up. After elites and premier flyers, those in Economy Plus get the next shot based on frequent flyer status and fare class.

Scoring a surprise first class upgrade is never guaranteed. But purchasing Economy Plus boosts your chances since you’ll be in the portion of the cabin airlines look to first. A cheap flight can instantly feel much more luxurious in a lie-flat first seat.

Premier Snacks on International Flights

On international flights over 8 hours, Economy Plus flyers receive complimentary premier snacks from the Fork & Knife meal service. Options may include chocolate chip cookies, pretzel crisps, granola bars, trail mix, and other small bites.

While these snacks are not a substitute for a full meal, they can help fill you up when you get hungry mid-flight. Having premier snacks included makes the upgrade feel more worthwhile.

Seatback Entertainment

On long haul international routes, United Economy Plus passengers enjoy seatback entertainment systems. Screens are usually around 9 inches with on-demand movies, TV shows, games, and music.

Seatback screens provide a better viewing experience than trying to balance your device or watch shows on a small phone screen. You can browse all entertainment easily with a touch of your finger.

Drawbacks of United Economy Plus

While Economy Plus includes nice perks like added legroom and priority boarding, there are some drawbacks to consider before paying to upgrade:

Added Cost

The main downside to Economy Plus is the extra cost, usually $30 to $100+ each way depending on route and demand. On a roundtrip booking, you’re looking at $60 to $200+ in additional fees.

Here are the typical costs for a one-way flight:

  • Short haul (under 700 miles): $30-$59
  • Medium haul (700 – 1,400 miles): $59-$99
  • Long haul (over 1,400 miles): $99-$150

On high-demand routes and peak travel dates around holidays, you may pay closer to $150+ each way. Prices are set dynamically based on expected demand.

While some may find the added comfort worth the expense, it still stings to pay extra after purchasing a standard economy ticket. For large families or budget travelers, it can really add up.

Not Available on All Flights

United doesn’t offer Economy Plus on all flights. Regionals jets and some economy-focused routes may not have this premium economy option.

You’ll want to confirm availability before booking if Economy Plus is a must-have. Paying extra only to be assigned a standard seat would not be ideal.

Flights under 2 hours sometimes lack Economy Plus, though not always. Peak holiday travel dates are most likely to have availability given higher demand.

Diminishing Returns on Short Flights

On short hops under 2 hours, the benefits of extra legroom become less substantial. Priority boarding won’t save you much time on a quick flight. And the chance of an upgrade is near zero on short routes.

While there’s still value in extra knee room on all flights, you may get more bang for your buck on longer trips. Paying $59 for maybe an hour of added comfort could feel wasteful.

You also won’t have access to premier snacks or seatback screens on short domestic hops. So weigh whether it’s worth the cost when flying from say Chicago to St. Louis versus Chicago to Los Angeles.

Mixed Opinion on Seat Comfort

Though they provide extra knee space, some travelers aren’t impressed with the actual comfort of Economy Plus seats, outside of legroom. The shape and padding is essentially the same as regular economy seats.

After being spoiled by first class comfort, some may feel Economy Plus is still lacking in terms of seat ergonomics and cushioning. The legroom alone doesn’t necessarily make up for slim, non-adjustable armrests and flat back cushions.

On the other hand, taller travelers accustomed to cramped economy may find simply gaining legroom provides all the comfort they need.

When Does United Economy Plus Make Sense?

At the end of the day, whether or not Economy Plus is worth it depends largely on your budget, height/size, and length of flight.

Here are some scenarios where upgrading to Economy Plus tends to make the most sense:

Long Haul Flights

On lengthy international or cross country flights, the upgrade cost gets you several hours of extra room to stretch out. Being comfortable in your seat can make a huge difference on 10+ hour journeys.

You’ll also take advantage of seatback screens and premier snacks to help pass the time. Priority boarding and overhead bin space are more useful when you’re settled in for the long haul.

Connecting Flights

Having Economy Plus for connections can be worthwhile even if one leg is short. Extra room on a longer segment plus the benefit of early boarding when making your connection can maximize comfort.

You won’t have to stress as much about tight transfers since you can deplane quicker from priority seating. Time spent in the cramped middle seat is minimized.

Tall or Large Travelers

Those over 6 feet or larger framed passengers tend to feel the pain of economy most. Economy Plus is often their best option outside of costly first class tickets.

For just 5 more inches of precious legroom, taller customers gain the ability to sit relatively comfortably on long flights. Their sore knees and legs will thank them after touching down.

Medical Need

Some passengers require extra legroom for medical reasons such as bad knees, hip pain, and other conditions made worse by cramped seats.

While airlines do accommodate disabilities with bulkhead seating, Economy Plus guarantees the legroom needed without the hassle of requesting accommodations.

Leisure Travel

When you’re flying for fun like a vacation rather than a business trip, spending a bit more for comfort is easier to justify. You want to arrive relaxed and refreshed.

By contrast, road warriors flying constantly for work may be less inclined to pay up for Economy Plus on every trip to keep down costs.

Using Mileage Upgrades

Elite frequent flyers and credit cardholders can use miles or certificates to upgrade to Economy Plus. This negates the cash outlay.

If you have a stash of miles,burn some to upgrade Economy Plus when taking longer flights where the benefits are maximized.

The Verdict: Sometimes Worth the Cost

At the end of the day, United Economy Plus offers real benefits versus standard economy, but at an added price that varies trip to trip.

For taller travelers and those who value comfort on long flights, the extra legroom and amenities like priority boarding tend to justify the cost. But occasional and budget travelers may find it harder to swallow on shorter flights.

Here are some final tips for deciding if Economy Plus is worth it for your particular trip:

  • Weigh flight duration – consider length of each segment.
  • Look at your total budget – add up fees for all legs.
  • Check availability before booking standard economy.
  • Use miles/certificates for upgrades if possible.
  • Sit in a test economy seat to see if you need extra room.
  • Reserve Economy Plus at booking for lowest fares.
  • Consider Premier Access for priority only, not extra legroom.

Choosing Economy Plus requires balancing your budget and desire for comfort during travel. But for many United customers, the upgrade is money well spent for the extra bit of breathing room.

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