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United Airlines

Is United Charging More for Wi-Fi Based on How Badly You Want It?

Is United Charging More for Wi-Fi Based on How Badly You Want It?
Jeff Edwards

How much does it cost to use the Wi-Fi on a United Airlines flight? According to the carrier, the answer depends on where you are and how long your flight is, but FlyerTalkers are reporting that the price of onboard internet access might also fluctuate during the flight depending on when during the journey a passenger decides to log on.

Wildly fluctuating inflight Wi-Fi rates might be the airline industry’s most recent experiment in dynamic pricing. According to at least one FlyerTalk member, the cost of accessing the internet varied dramatically throughout a recent United Airlines flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

“This week, when flying on United, I have realized that the United was trialing on fluctuating Wi-Fi prices during the flight,” user ISTFlyer reported. “I know the prices depend on the route, however, the price change happened on the same exact flight on air … Is there a reason behind this trial such as ( time of the day, etc… ) or are they now trying to get the extra money from those passengers who purchase Wi-Fi at the first minutes of the flight?”

ISTFlyer helpfully provided screenshots of the fluctuating rates throughout the journey. In the first image, taken 1 hour and 28 minutes before landing, Wi-Fi access was being offered for 30 minutes at a cost of $10.99 or 1,700 miles. One hour of inflight internet could be purchased for $12.99 or 2,010 miles and coverage for the entire flight was set at $15.99 or 2,470 miles.

Approximately one-half-hour later, Wi-Fi was being offered through the portal at the deep discount of 30 minutes for $6.99 or 1,080 miles, one hour for $8.99 or 1,390 miles and the remainder of the flight for $11.99 or 1,850 miles. While prorating the cost of full-flight access certainly makes sense, with nearly an hour remaining in the flight, the fire sale for one hour and 30 minute Wi-Fi access is less understandable. Adding even more intrigue to the Wi-Fi pricing scheme, other FlyerTalk users report that, in some cases, prices have actually increased after takeoff.

“Pricing for internet access will vary,” the United Airlines website explains, shedding very little light on the actual cost of the product. “On board most aircraft equipped with United Wi-Fi, pricing for internet access is determined and charged by flight segment (from takeoff to landing). We’ve launched a newly designed portal with multiple payment options. With this new portal, on select aircraft, you will have additional internet access options, such as time-based plans (example: 30 minutes, 1 hour) or full flight access, as well as the ability to purchase internet with your MileagePlus award miles or a saved credit card in your MileagePlus account.”

United Airlines is, perhaps, intentionally cagey about the price of inflight internet access – meaning passengers may not know whether they are getting the best price available until after they have already purchased the service. Based on firsthand accounts in the forums, in some cases, the price of Wi-Fi gradually decreases during the flight, while at other times, the rate increases and still other times, the prices do not fluctuate at all during the journey.

A simple solution for frequent United Airlines flyers who want to make certain they aren’t overpaying for inflight internet access might just be to purchase a Wi-Fi subscription. Unlike the rates for Wi-Fi on individual segments, the subscription has a published price ($49 or 7,500) and won’t fluctuate between takeoff and landing.

The airline industry has, in the past, experimented with using dynamic pricing models to set everything from reward redemptions to early boarding access and even airfares. Beyond using market indicators to set prices and fees, in some cases, these plans have been designed to charge different passengers different prices based on big data mining and demographic markers.

“This is ‘Big Brother’ meets ‘Big Business’ and it is a frightening combo for already-price badgered airline travelers,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said of plans for one such dynamic pricing scheme floated in March of last year. “The airlines have already monetized every single inch of the plane: smaller seats, less food, charges for carry-ons, and so the thought that they or others within the travel industry are looking to nickel and dime consumers based on their mobile phone or computer’s browser history is a sad state of affairs that just might violate consumer protections.”

Have you noticed the price of inflight Wi-Fi changing depending on when you check or which device you check on? Is this a simple case of supply and demand or a slippery slope toward “dynamic pricing” for everything from bag fees to inflight cocktails? In any case, the FlyerTalk United Airlines MileagePlus forum has the best advice for making sure to get the best inflight Wi-Fi deal available.

[Image: United Airlines]

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View Comments (10)


  1. pmiranda

    November 15, 2019 at 5:18 am

    The initial pricing is exactly the same as I saw for SFO-AUS a couple weeks ago. I didn’t check later in the flight but it makes sense for it to go down over time as the take rate probably falls off considerably later in a flight.

  2. zoombee

    November 15, 2019 at 7:50 am

    I can think of a customer friendly reason this could be happening. Pricing may be tied to use. Charging progressing more as people use the system more helps in two ways. First it should mean only people who really value getting connected will add load when the system is busier. Second, if there is persistently high demand then the extra income is there to fund increased capacity.

  3. White Eagle

    November 15, 2019 at 8:57 am

    UNITED: ANYTHING UA does is ONLY to enrich their own pockets at the cost of their captive PAX. UA’s last act of kindness for PAX was put toilet paper in the lavatories.

  4. Dublin_rfk

    November 16, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    Going by my 68 United flights this year WiFi should be free. Between my lack of desire to connect and United’s record of poor delivery of service I have yet to use the service.

  5. jimmc66


    November 16, 2019 at 9:25 pm

    If UA is doing true “demand pricing”, I’m completely in favor. For some of us (1K, 2MM), the ability to get a usable connection is becoming very important. And as devices become more data-hog-intensive, I want to make sure that those who think Instagram and Snapchat are “important” are paying their way along with the rest of us.

    I was one of the first beta testers of the Connexion by Boeing system when it was first launched (on Lufthansa) and have been increasingly pleased with the quality of connections that United is now providing.

    The comments from White Eagle are abusive IMHO.

  6. robnbrwn

    November 19, 2019 at 10:29 am

    Am I the only one who still brings a book onboard?

  7. Travel Entuziast

    November 20, 2019 at 4:59 am

    Buy a subscription $49/month domestic or $69/month international and you can use it every time you fly and don’t have to worry about dynamic pricing. I hate when United and other airlines raise or change prices, too, but it is a business.

  8. skidooman

    November 20, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    I can live without Internet a few hours.

    If you don’t like it, just do like me and refuse to connect. Your life will be only better.

  9. DCAFly

    November 21, 2019 at 9:55 am

    White Eagle – don’t worry, you’ll be paying for the toilet paper before long. Oh wait, is this comment abusive?

  10. emcampbe

    November 22, 2019 at 8:15 am

    Is this really different than GoGo, which not only charges based on route/length, but more for peak vs. non-peak tines. So the cost on a business-heavy Monday morning or Thursday evening UAX flight would be more than on a Saturday flight. I believe GoGo has publicly said this is their model.

    I don’t use inflight internet – it’s just doesn’t really work properly, and pricing is too high to make it worth it, But if the cost is being based on the capacity and the amount already being used (or expected, with that changing during certain portions of the flight), it makes sense to me, even though its not exactly transparent. I’ve also seen UAX GoGo flights with weird pricing – where it will offer a 30 minute price at $X, an hour at something like $1,5X, and full flight at say, $1,75X, with only 20 minutes of useable time left,.. I think its worse to try and entice people to buy higher priced plans for more time than they know is left on the flight.

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