United gave me a $2,000 travel voucher to take a later flight

Well, I feel like hit the lottery with United recently.

In the wake of the 2017 “incident” on a United flight when a passenger was left bloody and bruised for failing to give up his seat, United introduced a new policy where they would compensate passengers with up to $10,000 in travel vouchers to take later flights. Their logic is that with offers that high, they’ll never need to forcibly remove a passenger again (and they also changed their policy for allowing that to happen in the first place).

I’m happy to say that a few weeks ago, I was the beneficiary of this policy and was given a $2,000 travel voucher to take a later flight.

I was on the last flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco, having just attended my 10 year (!) law school reunion. I was, as usual, first in line for the Zone 1 boarding group, when I heard a United announcement that they were taking volunteers for a later flight. I asked the person behind me to watch my bags, went up, and found out they were offering $500 plus hotel for the night, but it would require flying out at 7pm the next night. I was also told that my ability to get the voucher wasn’t guaranteed, as I would need to wait for everyone to board to see if they really needed my seat.

I hate checking luggage and knew that if I boarded last, there would be no place for my overhead luggage. Also, flying out at 7pm wasn’t appealing, especially because I had to work (remotely) on Monday and they wouldn’t guarantee a late check-out at the hotel. So, I told the gate agent that I didn’t think I was interested and he offered me $600. I told him I’d think about it.

About 5 minutes later, the offer went up to $1,000 and I decided that was good enough for me, so I grab my bags and ran over. But, to my delight, on my way to the desk, the gate agent announced that it had gone up to $2,000 and I let him know right away that I would take it.

The $2,000 was on the same conditions as before – I had to wait for the plane to board and there were about 6 other people who volunteered. After the plane boarded, the gate agent started calling the 6 of us waiting by our names. First, there was a couple and the gate agent let them know that their seats were needed (they were thrilled). Then they called a single traveler who was told they would not need his seat and that he should board. I was beyond nervous. About a minute later, my name was called and I was told that they needed my seat – I’m pretty sure I let out a gay gasp of excitement.

Although there was a ~6am PHL to SFO flight, I was told it was full and that I would need to be on the 7pm flight (and that the only seat available was middle and in the back). So, throughout the night, I kept checking Google Flights and at around 11pm, I saw there was an opening in Economy Plus (although a middle seat) on the 6am flight. I called United right away, they booked me on it, and instead of landing in SF at 11pm on Sunday night, I got in around 8am on Monday morning.

I was trying to decide how to use my travel voucher – mostly deciding between using it to pay for my flights throughout the next year or to use it on something more extravagant. Ultimately, I decided to treat myself after finding a ~$2,500 business class fare sale between San Francisco and Europe and book a trip to Mallorca via Frankfurt in United’s Polaris business class.

There’s only one other time that I’ve made out better with airline compensation – when Delta paid me $2,400 in cash and three nights hotel to delay my flight to Mexico.

Something to keep in mind with the United vouchers is that you can’t use them for non-United flights, even if you can book them through the United platform. So for my flight to Mallorca, I book the business class flights to and from Frankfurt using the voucher and then booked my flight to Mallorca on Lufthansa separately. But it was a small price to pay for an almost complimentary business class ticket.

What’s the most amount of compensation that you’ve received from an airline? Let me know in the comments!

Review of United’s new Premium Plus seat on the 777-300ER

A few weeks ago, I was flying United direct from San Francisco to Hong Kong. At the time, I was a United Silver premier member (that flight bumped me up to Gold, though!). As a Silver member, I was able to move to Economy Plus for free within 24 hours of my flight, and I considered myself lucky enough when an Economy Plus aisle seat opened up.

But I didn’t realize how lucky I really was.

When I was asked to select a seat, I was a bit confused as the setup was 2-4-2, rather than the typical 3-4-3 setup on this route. I actually thought it was a glitch, but didn’t let that stop me from changing my seat.

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When I got on the plane, I was shocked. It turns out that United is slowly rolling out its Premium Plus product (which is basically the same as Premium Economy). Premium Plus is a class of service between Economy and Business.

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There was a welcome screen telling me the basics — mainly, that one day (soon) United is going to charge extra for these seats, and that they will come with separate pillow/blankets, meals, and service that will make it stand out even more than regular economy.

The seats are new and very comfortable. There is a foot rest in front of you and the recline is much better than economy or Economy Plus. The screen is massive (I’m used to having no screen at all on this route), and there is a really handy storage area that’s perfect for your cell phone, charger, and headphones. Speaking of headphones, the headphones provided by United in Premium Plus were very sharp and comfortable.

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The little touches were nice, too. This included a table extension (pictured below) that made it easy to watch your iPhone/iPad/tablet without needing to hold it up yourself.

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Even though the flight took off at around 1:05pm, I was able to nap comfortably, which I attribute to the recline and comfortable seat. There was plenty of leg room, which I also really enjoyed.

These Premium Plus seats are available on a few routes from San Francisco, including Hong Kong, Auckland, and Taipei.

Overall, I had a great experience. Right now, as a United Gold member, I’m able to move into Premium Plus seats at booking, so I’m taking advantage of it for as long as the seats remain free. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to book these seats once United starts charging a premium for them (it will depend on how much they’re charging), but I’d definitely be temped.

My dream list of new direct flights from SFO

In a recent post, I wrote about how United was introducing a temporary direct flight between San Francisco and Barcelona. Although this flight is scheduled for only a few select days in February, Level by Iberia will now be offering ongoing, non-stop service between the 2 cities, which is pretty great.

Along with Barcelona, San Francisco has picked up some other great new direct flights in recent years, including to Tahiti, Madison, Wisconsin, and, soon, to Amsterdam.

Still, as a San Francisco-based remote worker, there are some direct routes that I dream about. Below is my dream list of new, direct flights from SFO.

San Francisco to Rome, Italy

Although San Francisco has a number of direct flights to Europe, including Frankfurt, Zurich, Paris, and London, the options are still fairly limited compared to New York.

The European route that I would value the most would be a direct flight between San Francisco and Rome. Currently, the best way to get to Rome from San Francisco is via Swiss Air with a layover in Zurich (which is quicker than connecting in the U.S. or Canada).

A direct flight would cut travel time significantly and would open up the ability to take long weekends in the Italian capital and surrounding regions.

Proposed airline: United

San Francisco to Bogotá

There are currently no direct flights between San Francisco and South America. The best San Francisco has to offer is a direct flight between SFO and Panama City, Panama and I’ve previously written about how this flight has changed the way I travel.

That said, I would love to see a direct flight between San Francisco and Colombia — and although Medellín is one of my favorite places in the world, I think a direct flight between SF and Bogotá would make a lot more sense.

Proposed airline: Avianca

San Francisco to Bangkok

Compared to New York, San Francisco is a considerably better travel base if you’re looking to travel to Asia. Current direct flights include Manila, Taipei, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, and Beijing.

Nevertheless, I would love to see a direct San Francisco to Bangkok flight. When I travel to Asia, I usually base myself out of Hong Kong, but if there was a direct flight from San Francisco to Bangkok, I would likely switch cities and base myself out of Bangkok instead. There are a few reasons for this, including Thai food, affordability, and flight times between BKK and places like Bali and Phuket.

Proposed airline: United

San Francisco to Guam

Alright, so as a former Guam resident and current San Franciscan, I’m definitely biased here. But I believe both Guam and San Francisco would benefit from this flight, as Guam currently has no direct flights between the island the mainland United States and San Francisco has a decent-sized Chamorro population.

Guam is already a United hub and there is definitely demand on the island for the flight.

Proposed airline: United

What are some direct flights that you would love to see? Let me know in the comments!

Alaska Airlines offering its own version of basic economy

The days of Alaska Airlines not having a basic economy program are numbered.

On the Q1 Earnings Call this morning, Alaska Airlines announced its a beginning a “Saver Fare” program, which is similar to basic economy offered by United, Delta, and American, except that you will be able to select your own seat (towards the back of the plane).

On the Alaska Saver Fare, you will not be able to earn miles towards elite status, there will be restrictions about what you can bring on the plane, and you will board last.

Woman alleges Spirit Airlines made her flush emotional support hamster down the toilet

According to a report in the Miami Herald, Belen Aldecosea, a 21-year-old student from Florida, flushed her emotional support hamster, Pebbles, down a toilet after being instructed to do so by a Spirit employee.

Aldecosea claims that she contacted Spirit before her flight and received permission to bring Pebbles on board. However, when she got to the airport, she was denied entry onto the flight with Pebbles, and a Spirit employee told Aldecosea that her two options were to either flush Pebbles or to let the animal free.

Aldecosea chose to flush Pebbles, saying she could not bear thinking of her hamster freezing to death or getting hit.

“She was scared. I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet,” Aldecosea said. “I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall.”

Norwegian breaks record with 5 hour, 13 minute flight from New York to London

Norwegian – a low-cast carrier which is gaining notoriety with its low pricing, great service, and interesting direct routes – set a record on Monday for the fastest subsonic commercial transatlantic flight ever.

The flight, which departing from New York’s JFK Airport and landed at London Gatwick, clocked in at 5 hours and 13 minutes, beating the previous record of 5 hours and 16 minutes.

This falls shorts of the fastest transatlantic flight ever, which occurred on February 7, 1996 on a Concorde, clocking in at 2 hours and 55 minutes.

Delta uses in-flight magazine to complain about Gulf carriers

On a recent Delta flight, I was surprised when I opened up the Delta Sky magazine which was attacking the Gulf carriers (Emirates, Qatar, and Ethiad). The note from Delta read as follows:

The nations of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are attempting to take over international aviation by funneling billions of dollars in subsidies into their state-owned airlines. U.S. airlines have already ceased flying to certain international destinations because they can’t compete with the unreasonably low prices of the gulf airlines. And for every route lost, 1,500 Americans lose their jobs. Left unaddressed, the U.S. aviation industry is at risk.

Open & Fair Skies agreements exist to prevent this, but they are not being enforced. Join the fight to protect fair trade and American jobs.

I think Delta is being a whiny drama queen here. Delta itself has accepted billions of dollars in government subsidies, which it was not complaining about when it was on the winning side.

Delta is also avoiding the elephant in the room here which is, compared to the Gulf carriers, its qualify of service sucks. In the latest ranking of worldwide airlines, Delta ranked #32, whereas Emirates was #4, Qatar was #1, and Ethiad was #7.

Sure, you may argue that Delta could have better service without these subsidies, but let’s look how Delta ranks significantly below dozens of other international airlines that don’t receive these kind of cash infusions, including EVA Air (#6), Thai Airlines (#11), Turkish Airlines (#11), Virgin Australia (#13), and even Norwegian (#28).

Rather than lodging a campaign against 3 airlines, Delta should work hard to take the market share from airlines without cash infusions that currently offer a much better in-flight experience.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!