United Airlines is changing the way its customers earn reward miles—and some frequent flyers may not like it much.
Starting in 2015, MileagePlus members will earn frequent flyer miles according to how much money they spend, not the number of miles they fly. Basing reward miles on ticket prices instead of mileage flown makes it harder for travelers to pump up their mileage rewards accounts by taking advantage of discount airfares to far-flung places. After the changes are implemented next year, MileagePlus members will earn five miles for every dollar spent on United airfare, regardless of where they are flying.
However, MileagePlus Premier members will earn more than the base level of five miles per dollar, depending on their status level. Premier Silver members will earn seven miles per dollar spent, Premier Gold members will get eight miles per dollar, Premier Platinum travelers will receive nine miles per dollar, and Premier 1K members will earn eleven miles for every dollar they spend on United flights.
Miles earning is limited to 75,000 frequent flyer miles for each ticket purchased.
Credit card rewards unchanged
United MileagePlus credit card customers will still be able to earn extra miles when they use their cards to buy their United tickets. Cardholders get two miles per dollar spent on United purchases and one mile per dollar spent everywhere else.
MileagePlus cardmembers also receive traveler-friendly benefits including priority boarding, free checked baggage, United Club passes and other opportunities to earn bonus miles.
Previous changes led to this announcement
This change didn’t come out of the blue. In January of this year, United changed the way MileagePlus members earned elite member status, adding a minimum-spending requirement along with a required number of miles flown.
United customers now must spend between $2,500 and $10,000 per year to maintain membership in MileagePlus Premier programs, in addition to flying at least 25,000 miles per year.
New ways to redeem reward miles
Along with the change in miles-earning structure, United is adding new ways for customers to cash in on their miles. In 2015, MileagePlus members can use miles to purchase Economy Plus seats featuring extra legroom, and to buy Economy Plus or checked-baggage subscriptions.
Baggage subscriptions start at $349 a year and allow travelers and their flight companions to check two bags for free on every flight all year long. Economy Plus subscriptions start at $499 per year and offer free Economy Plus seat upgrades on all flights where they are available.