Why Are United Airlines Tickets So Expensive?

If you’ve ever shopped for United Airlines tickets, you may have noticed their fares tend to be higher than other major U.S. airlines. This leads many travelers to ask: why are United Airlines tickets so expensive?

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: United Airlines tickets are often more expensive due to the airline’s reliance on business travelers, lack of low-cost fares, fewer available seats from flight consolidation, and operational inefficiencies resulting in higher costs.

In this nearly 3,000 word guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at the key reasons why United Airlines consistently has some of the highest airfares in the industry.

Dependence on Higher-Paying Business Travelers

One of the main reasons why United Airlines tickets are often more expensive than those of other airlines is their dependence on higher-paying business travelers. Compared to leisure travelers, business travelers are willing to pay more for flexibility, convenience, and additional services.

As a result, United Airlines caters to the needs of business travelers, which contributes to higher ticket prices.

Percent of revenue from business travelers versus leisure

United Airlines relies heavily on revenue generated from business travelers. According to industry reports, around 60% of United Airlines’ revenue comes from business travelers, while only 40% comes from leisure travelers.

This significant reliance on business travelers allows United Airlines to set higher prices to maximize their profits.

Priority given to business routes and corporate accounts

Another factor that contributes to the higher cost of United Airlines tickets is the priority given to business routes and corporate accounts. United Airlines focuses on serving major business hubs and routes that are popular among business travelers.

They also establish and maintain corporate accounts with large companies, offering them preferential treatment and discounts. While this benefits business travelers, it often results in higher fares for leisure travelers on the same routes.

Last-minute business travel drives up fares

One of the reasons why United Airlines tickets can be significantly more expensive is the demand for last-minute business travel. Business travelers often have urgent meetings or unexpected trips that require them to book flights on short notice.

Airlines, including United Airlines, take advantage of this demand by increasing prices for last-minute bookings. As a result, leisure travelers who plan their trips well in advance may find cheaper options with other airlines.

Lack of Low-Cost Fare Options

One of the main reasons why United Airlines tickets can be expensive is the lack of low-cost fare options. Unlike some other airlines that offer basic economy fares, United Airlines does not have a similar product to compete with bare bones fares.

Basic economy fares are typically cheaper and come with certain restrictions such as no seat selection and no carry-on baggage allowance. These fares are popular among budget-conscious travelers who are willing to sacrifice certain amenities for a cheaper ticket.

No basic economy product to compete with bare bones fares

United Airlines’ decision not to offer a basic economy product puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting price-sensitive travelers. By not having a lower-priced option, United Airlines may be missing out on potential customers who are looking for the cheapest possible fare.

Very limited low-cost carrier partner relationships

Another factor contributing to the expensive nature of United Airlines tickets is the limited number of low-cost carrier partner relationships. Unlike some other airlines that have partnerships with low-cost carriers, United Airlines has fewer options for offering cheaper fares through these partnerships.

Low-cost carriers often operate with lower operational costs and can offer more competitive pricing. Without strong partnerships in this area, United Airlines may struggle to offer more affordable ticket options.

High change and cancellation fees disincentivize budget travelers

United Airlines’ high change and cancellation fees can also disincentivize budget travelers from booking with the airline. When travelers are on a tight budget, they may be more hesitant to book with an airline that charges hefty fees for making changes or canceling flights.

These fees can add up quickly and make the overall cost of the ticket much higher than initially anticipated. As a result, budget-conscious travelers may opt for airlines with more lenient change and cancellation policies.

It is important to note that the lack of low-cost fare options is not unique to United Airlines, and other major carriers may also face similar challenges. However, it is a contributing factor to why United Airlines tickets may seem more expensive compared to some other airlines.

Flight Consolidation and Reduction in Overall Seats

One of the reasons why United Airlines tickets may be more expensive is due to flight consolidation and a reduction in overall available seats. This can be attributed to several factors.

Merged with Continental leading to fewer total flights

United Airlines merged with Continental Airlines in 2010, resulting in a reduction in the total number of flights available. The consolidation of these two major airlines led to a streamlining of routes and services, which ultimately resulted in fewer options for passengers.

With fewer flights available, the demand for seats on each flight increased, potentially driving up ticket prices.

Regional jets replaced larger mainline planes on some routes

In an effort to optimize operations and increase profitability, United Airlines has replaced larger mainline planes with regional jets on certain routes. While this may have been a strategic move for the airline, it also means a reduction in the number of available seats on those specific routes.

As a result, the limited supply of seats can drive up ticket prices, especially during peak travel periods.

Overbooking and crowded planes due to supply and demand imbalance

Another factor contributing to higher ticket prices on United Airlines is the supply and demand imbalance. In an attempt to maximize revenue, airlines often overbook flights to account for potential no-shows.

However, when more passengers show up than there are available seats, the airline may be forced to deny boarding to some passengers or offer compensation for voluntary rebooking. This can lead to crowded planes and a higher demand for available seats, ultimately driving up ticket prices.

Operational Inefficiencies and Higher Costs

There are several reasons why United Airlines tickets tend to be more expensive compared to other airlines. One of the main factors contributing to this is the airline’s operational inefficiencies and higher costs.

Older fleet requiring high maintenance expenditures

United Airlines operates one of the oldest fleets among major airlines. While older aircraft may still be safe to fly, they require more frequent and expensive maintenance. This is because older planes often have outdated technology and components that need regular repairs or replacements.

These higher maintenance expenditures ultimately increase the overall operating costs for United Airlines, which are then passed on to the passengers.

Poor on-time arrival record leading to passenger compensation

Another factor contributing to the higher ticket prices is United Airlines’ poor on-time arrival record. According to recent reports, United Airlines has had a lower on-time arrival rate compared to its competitors.

This means that passengers may experience delays and disruptions, which can be frustrating and inconvenient. To compensate for these inconveniences, United Airlines often provides compensation to affected passengers, adding to their operational costs.

These costs are then reflected in the ticket prices.

Uncompetitive cost structure including labor and fuel

United Airlines also faces challenges with its cost structure, including labor and fuel costs. Labor costs, including wages and benefits for employees, can be a significant expense for airlines. Additionally, fuel costs fluctuate and can have a major impact on an airline’s profitability.

United Airlines has faced challenges in maintaining a competitive cost structure in these areas, which can contribute to higher ticket prices.

It’s important to note that these factors are not unique to United Airlines. Many airlines face similar challenges, but United Airlines, in particular, has been affected by these operational inefficiencies and higher costs.

To stay competitive in the industry, United Airlines has been working on various initiatives to improve its operational efficiency and reduce costs. These efforts aim to ultimately provide passengers with better value for their money.

For more information on the topic, please visit United Airlines.


In summary, United Airlines struggles to keep fares low due to its dependence on premium business travel, lack of budget-friendly options, flight consolidation and seat reductions, and operational challenges driving up expenditures.

While the airline is working to improve cost efficiency, the underlying business model continues to focus more on profitability rather than affordable air travel. Unless United doubles down on competing for leisure and price-sensitive fliers, its fares are likely to remain at a premium compared to other major U.S. carriers.

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