Is Economy Plus United Worth It? Family Travel with a Baby

United Economy Plus - Worth the Upgrade

Is Economy Plus worth it?

If you are like me, having a child doesn’t stop you from exploring the world. Think Family travel is too difficult? It just takes some practice and we are certainly not holding back. In his first year, our boy has been on 2 trips to Europe, 1 transcontinental and 1 shorter domestic flight. He's also been a quite a few shorter trips via car though that is a bit more challenging. When planning your family trip, first or business class are often just too expensive or awards are not available but sometimes an upgrade to economy plus is for a “reasonable” fee. How much is reasonable and when is it worth it?

Unexpected trip & ridiculously priced last minute flights

On our recent unexpected trip to Europe we had to book a flight home a day before the actual departure. We chose United after weighting pros and cons of cash ticket versus spending the points. The options were between 30k United miles + $100 for a direct flight versus ~$700 cash for a one-way, less than ideal connecting flight, and much much more for a direct flight. Have you ever looked at prices of last minute flights to Europe!? Insane!

 

Last minute booking – Getting stuck in the Baby Ghetto with our… baby

Obviously booking last minute flights meant that the seat options would be limited. We took the second from the last row aka the baby ghetto seats which we thought were slightly better than the last row mid plane abutting the bathrooms. So, back of the plane vs people hovering, slamming bathroom doors, flushing, and, of course, pleasant odors on a long international flight. All things that I look forward to on a flight!

Is the upgrade to Economy Plus worth it?

Since flights from Berlin to NYC are mostly in the morning, I stayed up late to keep an eye on the seats availability. Very late in the night I could see that the economy plus rows were mostly still empty. Usually I would not be thrilled to pay extra for (still) economy seats but

  1. We have a baby that
  2. isn’t a great sleeper (extra space and legroom would be very helpful).
  3. We were very tired from a lot of long drives plus lack of sleep in general.
  4. This was a bereavement trip, unfortunately.
  5. Our coach seat options were pretty lousy.
  6. Buying the Economy Plus seat outright would have likely been significantly more expensive than coach, therefore making this $150 per person a very good value.

After thinking through the above, it became obviously worth it rather quickly. This decision added $300 to the trip budget and in this case it was well worth the money. We rarely buy these kinds of upgrades but they are also rarely only $150.

Boarding and getting ready

As I mentioned in my post on surviving a first flight with a baby,  baby and I start boarding last despite often being allowed to board first. Why? One of us usually walks around the gate with the little one while the other organizes the seats situation for the flight duration. This time, to speed everything up we all boarded at the same time after observing how many more people will boarding. I saw a few more passengers were also eyeing the empty row situation closely as we exchanged the smiles.

Economy Plus United 2
Doors closing…ready…go!

After boarding, literally the seconds the door were closed the race started. This is not a game you can play in coach which is generally packed like sardines. Meanwhile, the economy plus section might be empty if no one bought upgrades. I already had my eyes on the closest 3-seat row a little behind us. That way baby could sleep stretched out not just in mommy’s arms…that eventually go numb. For the next 8 hours, we took turns sitting in the bonus row. It was like a little adult me time there – you could nap, tried to nap, finally watch the Black Panther movie (yes we are sooo behind but hey: sleep>movies, always) or write this post.

Is it worth it?

It depends but do you see the kid sleeping in the pics? Compared to business class, the cost can be thousands apart. For $150 more, economy plus may be worth it. An economy plus cash ticket would easily cost way more than that vs a coach seat so to upgrade for only $150 is a huge value. Of course, how can you say no to a huge value? How spoiled are you from flying mostly international business class (obviously using miles)?

If you can get decent economy seats, then probably not. Is it overnight? How many do you have in your crew? What are the circumstances of your trip (business, pleasure, not-pleasure).

Ultimately, less neighbors means more comfort and more flexibility.

What do you think? Do you buy economy plus upgrades and if so, why and how much are you willing to pay?

Comments

  1. United will provide free economy plus seating when traveling with a baby by requesting a bassinet.

    https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/special-needs/infants.html

    “A limited number of complimentary bassinets are available for use on international aircraft only. Bassinets are large enough to hold an infant weighing 22 pounds (10 kg) or less. They may not be used during taxi, takeoff or landing, or when the seatbelt sign is illuminated. Bassinets are available for customers traveling international segments in United Polaris® business class on select 757, 767, 777 and 787 aircraft and in United Economy® on 757, 767, 777 and 787 aircraft. Bassinets are not available for customers traveling in United Polaris first class, United First® or United Business® at this time.

    Customers can request a bassinet by calling the United Customer Contact Center at 1-800-UNITED-1 (1-800-864-8331) within the United States or the appropriate Worldwide Contact Center. We will provide accompanying seat assignments for an adult traveling with an infant and up to one travel companion. You can arrange these seat assignments with the United Customer Contact Center or with a United representative at the airport free of charge. Bassinet availability is limited, and these arrangements are not guaranteed, so we recommend requesting a bassinet early for your flight.”

    • Interesting. This doesn’t mention economy plus though, I just see ‘economy’. Did you see it somewhere else?

  2. For long haul flights I think it’s always a good deal to buy premium economy seats but I try to buy those seats for flights I’m not going to sleep on, i.e. mid-day 10 hour flights to Europe from the W Coast, for example. Buying at the last minute was a good move, but one also runs the risk of not being able to sit together. A couple on a recent flight from CDG to SEA wound up in middle seats a row apart. I don’t consider that great value, but I also don’t know what they paid extra.

    • Good point. If the only options were middle seat economy plus, I dont think I’d give up regular coach seats that were together. Probably even if they were free.

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