United Airlines to Reward Big-Spending Frequent Fliers

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Big changes are in the works for United Airlines’ MileagePlus frequent-flier program.

The airline is converting its loyalty program to reward dollars spent, not distance flown. United is the latest carrier to change its frequent-flier program to favor big spenders. We told you about Delta Air Lines‘ plans to transition to a dollar-based frequent-flier program beginning Jan. 1, 2015.

According to the Chicago Tribune, ThePointsGuy.com’s Brian Kelly said United fliers will likely earn fewer rewards overall with the new frequent-flier program. The Trib wrote:

He called United’s change “brazen” and a “cut-and-paste” of Delta’s reward program announced in February. “United is still stumbling from their merger,” he said, referring to the 2010 combination with Continental Airlines. “Their customer service is terrible and they’re losing money … to throw this curveball at customers is [a] bold move.” By contrast, “Delta at least has gotten their act together,” he said.

A United press release said that beginning March 1, 2015, United MileagePlus members will earn 5 miles for each dollar spent. MileagePlus Premier members will earn the following:

  • Premier Silver – 7 miles per dollar.
  • Premier Gold – 8 miles per dollar.
  • Premier Platinum – 9 miles per dollar.
  • Premier 1K – 11 miles per dollar.

“These changes are designed to more directly recognize the value of our members when they fly United,” said Thomas F. O’Toole, United’s senior vice president of marketing and loyalty and president of MileagePlus. “We are also pleased to give our members new redemption options that expand the usefulness of their MileagePlus miles.”

The new options include using miles to buy Economy Plus seats on individual flights or to purchase Economy Plus and checked-baggage subscription packages.

The winners here are clear – fliers who buy expensive tickets for short flights. The unfortunate losers will likely be leisure travelers and others who fly long distances in coach.

American Airlines remains the lone network carrier whose frequent-flier program still rewards miles. But that could change. According to The Wall Street Journal:

American Airlines Group Inc., which merged last year with US Airways to become the largest airline by traffic, recently said it couldn’t make such structural changes until it integrates its two loyalty programs, which likely means not until next year. “But conceptually, it certainly makes sense to reward your best customers the most,” said Scott Kirby, American’s president.

What do you think of United’s overhauled frequent-flier program? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

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  • Jason

    Any idea on how this will effect current mileage balances? My wife and I have 225K miles we were planning on using for a trip to Europe next year.