April 12, 2017 - I woke up to the same news most Americans did. Dr. Dao was dragged off of a United Express flight from Chicago to Louisville and public outrage ensued.
I didn't feel the same outrage. I believed there was more to the story than a 30 second video. Regardless, the damage was done and United's PR team did an awful job containing it.
April 19, 2017 - United expands Basic Economy to nearly all non-stop domestic flights. Pete's outrage ensues.
Basic Economy affects every leisure traveler that purchases a ticket to fly on United. All of the domestic legacy airlines have begun offering basic economy fares, but none are as restrictive and widely available as United's offering. Generally for a $20 to $40 up charge per leg, you can purchase a regular economy ticket, bring a carry-on bag, and choose a seat. All things you could do for free before the basic economy roll out. United advertised this "enhancement" as a way to lower fares and better compete with ultra low cost carriers. That sounds like a great thing for consumers, if it were true. In practice, United introduced a $20-$40 fare increase across the board. Anecdotally, on April 18th I had purchased a ticket, overnight that same ticket had increased by $40 ($20 each way).
I am Premier Silver with United, I've been Premier since about a month after I aged out of employee pass travel with the airline. I certainly value the EconomyPlus perk and access to the Premier desk when travel doesn't go as planned. Save for one or two expensive tickets each year paid for by my employer, I hit premier status on my own dime. Basic Economy has caused me to re-think where I take my business, but living in Houston means United is generally the most convenient airline to fly.
The map below shows my travel pattern on United the last 18 months that I've been solely revenue passenger.
Consistently, over the past year my most popular destinations over have been Cincinnati, Chicago, and Mexico City. Non-stops out of Houston to Mexico City include Southwest, Aeromexico, Interjet, and United. Non-stops of Houston to Chicago include American, United, and Southwest, and United offers the only non-stops to Cincinnati.
At the moment I'm sitting at 24,800 PQMs, and $2,159 PQDs. I have no upcoming travel booked, but would say one or two more leisure trips and one more business trip this year are fairly likely. The question is, do I pay more and go out of my way to book on United? For personal travel, if Southwest is cheaper and as convenient should I book on Southwest? For business travel, my company has contract with American meaning I can select Main Cabin Extra at the time of booking, that's better than being Premier Silver with United.
Outside of my history and emotional tie with United, I don't know if it's worth it. I don't feel that United values me as a customer. Should my strategy going forward be to book whoever is cheapest and credit American miles to Alaska, Delta miles to FlyingBlue, and build my Rapid Rewards account? Use my miles to book premium cabin awards for long international flights, use my credit card perks strategically to have lounge access in most cities I travel to.
I haven't quite formulated my answer, and all the United would likely get most of business purely based on their schedule, price, and my emotional bias. But is all of that worth me skipping out on $400 Europe fares on KL and AF, because I need to save my travel dollars for UA travel. Probably not?