Frequent flyers who enjoy VIP treatment on United Airlines courtesy of elite-level membership in the United MileagePlus program got a surprise last week when they opened an email from United.
The company is implementing a minimum spending requirement, effective January 1, 2014, that will mean members have to spend between $2,500 and $10,000 in “premier qualifying dollars” to maintain their elite membership, depending on what level of membership they have. Previously, membership status was measured in miles. Flyers who travel 25,000 to 100,000 miles each year are eligible for elite status.
This means travelers who are used to using cheap flights to rack up miles will no longer be able to use those same methods for accruing credit toward their Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum or Premier 1K memberships. Take note, however: flyers must still meet the minimum mileage requirements in addition to the new spending requirements.
People’s loyalty will be measured in money, not just miles. Many in the industry feel that this is fair, and prevents people from “travel hacking” or gaming the system by flying extra miles to accrue frequent flyer elite status.
Credit card loophole
There is a way for frequent flyers to get around the new United requirements. Anyone with a Chase United MileagePlus Explorer credit card—the company’s co-branded travel rewards credit card—can reach elite status by spending $25,000 on the card each year.
United following Delta’s lead
Delta airlines recently made a similar change to their program; instead of just requiring travelers to collect miles, they now have to meet a minimum spending requirement of $12,500 to reach Diamond-level status in the Delta SkyMiles program. Like United, they also require a minimum number of miles to be flown – 125,000 for Diamond level membership.
Advance fees also for cancellations
United is also now charging a fee for passengers who change a ticket booked with MileagePlus miles. That change went into effect earlier this month, according to the Chicago Tribune. If there are changes to a flight within 21 days travel the fee is $100and if the change is made more than 21 days before the flight the fee is $75.
Previously there were no fees for changes made three weeks before travel. Cancellation fees for trips booked using miles where rewards are put back into the frequent flyer account has also been increased from $150 to $200.