Somehow I got an invitation to beta test the new United Airlines website. I haven’t flown on United or even used my miles in over a year. My Premier 1K status has reverted to zero. But I was still curious and have enough experience using the old site to know what to look for. On the surface, it looks very similar to the mobile app that was released last year.
The site is restricted to eligible members — I had to log in with my MileagePlus account information.
But it was very attractive once I was in. Apparently “flat” tiles are the current trend. Clicking on a tile will expand it to provide more details or make it interactive, e.g., search for an itinerary. It functions essentially the same as accordion-style headings except these are arranged as squares.
United used tiles before, which were not interactive and did not require expanding them. But I think these changes are improvements as they remove distraction. It also looks better without the gaps between tiles and the addition of a colored background. You can change that background if you wish. Oddly for an airline that has abandoned its former mini-hub, many of the photos are from Seattle (even the ski slope is from nearby Mt. Baker).
Paid Fare Search
My test started by creating a new reservation from Seattle to Amarillo for Memorial Day weekend. Overall I thought the search results were easy to understand, but there was room for improvement. There were some good filters at the bottom and which were not immediately obvious to me. I also thought it was silly to use the same alert icon for every kind of warning, whether it was a change in terminals or a change in airports. These are clearly very different problems. If you’re in Dallas or Houston, you’re going to change terminals on every trip even if it’s a short 5-minute walk without re-clearing security. On the new website, every itinerary had this same icon.
When I got to the seat selection page, not much had changed, but it did provide me the cost of an EconomyPlus seat when I hovered, even if I hadn’t yet selected it. Not being used to purchasing these, I found it interesting that a bulkhead seat cost more than a seat one row behind with more legroom.
Another feature I liked was that the trip summary was kept visible throughout the purchase process. There was more detail on the page immediately after selecting my flights. As I went through other pages, it would appear as a blue box in the upper right corner.
Expert Mode Lives!
Thanks to a reader for reminding me to check on United’s Expert Mode. I went back this morning and updated the post by searching for an upgradeable flight on the Seattle-San Francisco route.
As you can see, when an upgrade is available a green arrow will appear in the search results. You can also click on a small arrow under the flight summary to view more details. This will expand to show three things: (1) breakdown of inventory in each booking class, (2) the actual booking class you’re purchasing when you choose the options under the “Economy (lowest),” “Economy (flexible),” or “First Class (lowest)” headings, and (3) whether an upgrade is available for one of those options.
Here you see that the cheapest option is booked as an N fare, while an instant upgrade is available if I were to book an M fare. (This option is only for Premier members, who can upgrade from Y and B fares, and in some cases M fares.) If upgrade space is not currently available, I could still book this fare and go back to request the upgrade later — the key benefit is that the upgrade can be processed before the complimentary upgrade window opens.
At this point I switched gears and tried to book an award flight instead. I’d much rather go to Hong Kong. Again, the site looks and acts much the same. I wouldn’t say this is just lipstick on a pig, as the old website actually worked quite well for my needs, but it is fair to say not much has changed from my perspective. You should be able to adapt very quickly.
Unfortunately, the calendar kept crashing when I tried clicking on a date to see the Saver Award premium cabin award space I was looking for. Of all the features I tested, award search was the only one that was buggy. So I went back and began a new search for those dates.
The results were nicely displayed, but does anyone notice a problem here? Since when does United offer Standard Awards on partner carriers? The prices for Saver Awards are correct. It’s the extra categories that don’t make sense for the SEA-NRT-TPE-HKG itinerary.
I was not exactly pleased by the switch to Continental’s website when the merger with United took place. The original United website was buggy (sometimes referred to as “.bomb”), but it had features I liked. Over time I came to appreciate that Continental’s website was packed with information. It was actually so full it was cluttered, but I learned my way around.
The new version is definitely cleaned up. It remains to be seen how United will improve all those pages with details on fee schedules, MileagePlus program rules, and so on. Right now attempts to access that information will just kick you back to the current website. It won’t be enough to just change the layout. Organization probably needs to improve as well (hopefully not at the expense of deleting that content). I continue to hope for the best, and they appear to be off to a great start.