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United Clubs downgrading free drinks Sep 9 #UnitedProgress

by on Wed August 21, 2013 • 1 Comment
These are complimentary...for now

These are complimentary…for now

We visited a couple United Clubs over the last week and can confirm the rumor that United plans to downgrade the drinks it currently offers for free in the United Clubs starting September 9th.

Here’s what we know…

  • Select spirits currently free to patrons such as Bacardi, Beefeater, Canadian Club, Dewar’s, Jim Beam, Jose Cuervo, and Seagram’s 7 will now be charged for (price unknown, probably $5-$6)
  • Free well drinks will still be offered, but the brands are not yet known, and will be of lower quality – probably truly bottom shelf liquor
  • Spirits currently marketed as ‘premium’ for $6 such as Grey Goose, Crown Royal, and Bombay Sapphire will increase in price to $12. Say goodbye to a nice discount versus airport bar prices for being a paying member.
  • The changes to the Premium Wine program is are unknown – ‘some’ of the wines will change. The question is whether they will change to lower quality wines and increase the price.
  • Currently, the Premium Wine program is an excellent benefit of Club membership – great wines like Stag’s Leap Artemis, Caymus Conundrum, and Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon are available for $10-$12 per glass, essentially ‘at cost’ with little markup. This is unique to United and the main reason this author is a member of the clubs.

The reason this is happening?

Thank Delta.

Earlier this year Delta SkyClub’s downgraded their free drinks to brands like Gordon’s Gin, Scoresby Scotch, and Jack Daniel’s Bourbon. It cut the cost of their free drinks by about half per bottle. These are brand you would find acceptable in a college bar, and the response has been lousy.

The rest of their liquor is charged at prices similar to what you would pay at an airport bar. In other words, $10 for a glass of wine that retails for $10 a bottle, $15 for a glass of mid tier liquor, you get the picture.

In Delta’s case, when it first started charging for premium drinks in 2011, it coincided with a switch to a new beverage provider – ‘Sodexho Magic.’ Sadly, the United Club staff indicate a new provider is coming online with this change. And our fear is it is also Sodexho.

United Clubs' outstanding Premium Wine list - we hope this is unchanged

United Clubs’ outstanding Premium Wine list – we hope this is unchanged

If the premium wine program  gets downgraded, United loses its  credibility from this author – no reason to renew United Club membership to pay the same prices at an airport bar that offers more variety.

Our hope is they will not go to the extreme Delta did. Paying $10.50 for a glass of Beaulieu Cabernet that retails for $12 a bottle is an insult to club membership, and what Delta practices. The Premium Wine program of today is our last hope at United.

Here’s the rub…

That’s not the case at United. Service is still spotty, unions have yet to reach major deals, and the inflight product has never had lower quality.

We love United miles and how easy they are to redeem at the Saver level, but this is a painful move from an airline that should still be trying to win back premium customers hurt by a turbulent merger process.

And if the Feds need to see how consumers are losing from airline consolidation…well…cheers to competition.

But sadly, we fear too many people are willing to pay for faux exclusivity, and will ignore the erosion of real value in membership. Maybe 1.5 miles per dollar from a United Club credit card isn’t such a good thing.

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