United Airlines to introduce new RFP platform

United Airlines plans to launch a new platform in late 2022 that will let corporate clients customize their travel programs with the carrier, the airline announced on Thursday.

Dubbed United for Business Blueprint, the platform essentially is a request-for-proposal customization tool, United SVP of worldwide sales Doreen Burse told BTN, which is “changing the way the airline industry does an RFP with a client”.

“It’s about how we contract and how we do RFPs,” she said. “This is about bringing to market an opportunity for customers to build their own program … and using technology to make the RFP process easier.”

Airline RFPs over the years often centered on securing fare discounts based on volume, travel patterns and history. Some corporate clients, however, now want to incorporate other elements, including experiential aspects, into their sourcing process, Burse explained, adding that United created the new tool after soliciting feedback on the RFP process from corporate customers.

“If somebody is focused only on the need for volume discounts, we can still do that,” Burse said. “But there are literally hundreds of other components we can now build into an RFP and the contract we put into place.”

Some of those elements could include higher status in United’s loyalty programs, reserving more spacious seats in Economy Plus, Wi-Fi access, baggage waivers and discounts on leisure travel for employees, with “the ability to customize these options down to the individual flights, travelers and destinations,” according to the company.

United has been beta-testing the platform with a “handful of clients,” Burse said, adding that the company had received feedback about the RFP process “for years”. The carrier just before the pandemic began to survey customers about process changes, and then “used the pandemic to continue to understand those things”.

The company tried to include different industry segments with varying needs in the beta test, and the platform will continue to evolve as client needs evolve, Burse said.

New SME-focused website planned

In addition, United also plans to launch a new website later in the year that is being designed with small and midsize customers in mind, but that larger corporate customers also could use. It will be aimed at companies that book business travel on the carrier’s website or via the United app, and it will allow them to enrol in United for Business and manage their program, according to the company.

Customers will be able to rebook and exchange their travel, view and use future flight credits, and view reports on travel activity based on money spent or trips taken, with the option to filter results, including by date of travel, origin and destination, according to United. There will also be new customizable booking and payment settings that previously were manual processes, Burse said.

“It’s for customers that are highly self-sufficient that want to manage their own program,” Burse said, adding that customer feedback is contributing to the new offering. “This is a segment of business that is fairly independent and fairly sophisticated. They know exactly what they need and are really clear on what their travel patterns are.”

Typically, these customers would enrol through the company’s business page and be connected with a sales manager, according to United, and some SME clients would be part of the company’s Perks Plus or Pass Plus loyalty programs. The new website will let these customers self-serve more easily, and they will have access to a wider set of reporting tools and customization options, according to the company.

“There are clients that thought maybe they were too small to do business with us, but that’s not the case,” Burse added. “We think we have something for everyone.”

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