How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected by the Changes at United Airlines

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This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but changes are coming to the United Airlines frequent flyer program starting March 1, 2015.

United Airlines will switch to a revenue-based frequent flyer program for earning miles (NOT for earning elite elite status or redeeming miles) on flights departing after March 1, 2015.  This means that instead of earning miles based on the distance you fly, you’ll earn miles based on how much you paid for your ticket.  You’ll earn more miles per $1 you spend if you have elite status compared to folks who don’t.

The changes will mostly affect folks who earn United Airlines miles from flying, and NOT those of us who collect miles from credit card sign-up bonuses, spending, shopping portals, or hotel points transfers.  You can stop reading if you earn your miles from credit cards, because nothing really changes!

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

Change Is Coming: United Switches to a (Partial) Revenue-Based Frequent Flyer Program

What’s Changing?

Link:   Changes to United Airlines’ MileagePlus Program

When you fly United Airlines now, you earn miles based on the distance flown.  Some fares, like full-fare coach class, Business Class, and First Class, will earn extra miles (between 125% and 250% of the distance flown), but all discounted coach class fares earn a minimum of 100% of the miles you fly.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

Right Now, You’ll Earn Miles on United Airlines Based on Distance Flown and Class of Service

United Airlines is changing the way you earn miles for flights flown (NOT booked) after March 1, 2015.  You’ll earn miles based on how much you paid for your ticket (base fare + surcharges) and what kind of elite status, if any, you have with United Airlines.

Here’s how many miles you’ll earn per $1 you spend (base fare + surcharges) for each elite status level:

Elite Status LevelMiles Earned
None5 Miles per $1
Premier Silver7 Miles per $1
Premier Gold8 Miles per $1
Premier Platinum9 Miles per $1
Premier 1K11 Miles per $1

So for example, on a $300 ticket, you’d earn:

  • No Status:  1,500 miles
  • Premier Silver Status:  2,100 miles
  • Premier Gold Status:  2,400 miles
  • Premier Platinum Status:  2,700 miles
  • Premier 1K Status:  3,300 miles

United Airlines says they’ve made these changes to reward members for their spending on United Airlines, which doesn’t help those of us don’t like to spend a lot of money on airline tickets!  But I wrote that we should expect changes to how airline award programs are run, so this isn’t a surprise.

That said, I know many folks will be unhappy with this announcement.  But part of being in the miles and points game is being able to adapt to industry trends and changes.  There will still be ways to get Big Travel with Small Money!

How Will This Affect You?

The biggest impact of this change will be on folks who actually fly on United Airlines to earn miles (vs. those who earn miles through credit card bonuses and spending).  This will especially affect those who like to fly long distances on discounted fares.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

Folks Who Earn Miles Through Cheap Long-Distance Tickets Will Be Most Affected

For example, I checked the United Airlines website for a round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles in November.  Their lowest fare is $398 round-trip in coach class.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

A Round-Trip Flight From New York to Los Angeles Costs $398

Under United Airlines’ current system, you’d earn 4,950 miles for this trip if you don’t have elite status.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

You’d Earn 4,950 Miles for This Trip Without Elite Status

However, if you flew the same trip after March 1, 2015, and paid the same amount, you’d only earn ~1,990 miles ($398 fare x 5 miles per $1 you spend).  That’s an approximate number because not all surcharges and fees will count towards spending.  In any case, you’ll earn ~3,000 miles less.

And as a top-tier elite (Premier 1K), the difference in earning is even more substantial.  Currently, Premier 1K flyers would earn 9,900 miles for this route.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

Premier 1K Elite Members Would Earn 9,900 Miles for a New York to Los Angeles Round-Trip Flight

After March 1, 2015, a Premier 1K elite member would only earn ~4,378 miles ($398 fare x 11 miles per $1 you spend) for the same $398 ticket.  That’s a difference of over 5,500 miles!

The good news is you’ll still earn Premier Qualifying Miles (which count towards elite status) based on the distance flown, not on the fare paid.  So those folks who like to “mileage run” by buying low or mistake fares on long routes to achieve elite status will NOT be affected by this change.

Note:   These changes will only affect flights flown on United Airlines or United Express, or Star Alliance and partner tickets issued by United Airlines.  You can still buy tickets on Star Alliance or partner airlines and credit the mileage to United Airlines under the old distance-based calculation.  But be careful since many foreign airlines do not give you 100% of the miles earned for the cheapest tickets.

Who Might Benefit From This Change?

1.   Business Class Travelers on Expensive Tickets

If you’re an elite business traveler whose company pays lots of money for Business Class tickets, but you get the miles, you might do quite well under the new system.

For example, a round-trip discounted Business Class ticket between Newark and London, UK costs $4,879.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

You (Well, Hopefully Your Employer) Will Pay $4,879 for a Round-Trip Business Class Ticket Between Newark and London

Using the old distance-based system, an elite Platinum 1K flyer would earn 17,330 miles for this ticket.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

You’d Earn 17,330 Miles Using the Distance Based System

The same trip flown after March 1, 2015 (assuming the same fare paid and elite status) would earn 53,669 miles ($4,879 fare x 11 miles per $1 you spend).  That’s a huge difference!  So overseas business travelers flying on expensive tickets might be very happy with this change.

And someone without any elite status at all would earn 24,395 ($4,879 fare x 5 miles per $1 you spend) for this ticket.  That’s better than what a top-tier elite would earn (17,330 miles) under the old system.

Note:  The class of service bonus is included in the number of award miles you earn per $1 you spend.  From the MileagePlus Updates website:

For tickets that will earn award miles based on ticket price, the class-of-service bonus and Premier bonus will be included in the number of award miles you earn per dollar.

But before you (or your boss) go buying $10,000 overseas tickets, United Airlines says you can only earn a maximum of 75,000 miles per ticket.  And there’s no minimum number of miles.  I don’t understand why you’d want to upset folks spending tens of thousands of dollars on flights by limiting the maximum miles earned.

But you could get around this by booking 2 1-way tickets (if 2 1-way tickets are priced the same as your roundtrip).

2.   Short-Haul Flyers on Moderately Priced (or Higher) Tickets

If you frequently fly short-haul routes (even in coach class), you might benefit from these changes, too.

A round-trip coach class ticket from Toronto to Chicago costs $340.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

You’ll Pay $340 for a Round-Trip Coach Class Ticket From Toronto to Chicago

With the old system, this ticket would earn a non-elite member 874 miles.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

It’s a Short Distance, so You’d Only Earn 874 Miles as a Non-Elite Flyer

But the same trip after March 1, 2015 would be a better deal for mileage earning.  You’d earn 1,700 miles ($340 fare x 5 miles per $1 you spend).  So if you fly a short distance on a (relatively) expensive ticket often, you will likely do better with the new revenue-based system.

Looking at it differently, the only way you’d do worse with this route under the new system would be if the fare were below ~$175.  That’s because ~$175 miles per $1 you spend = 875 miles, which is about what you would have earned under the distance-based system.

Folks who do lots of short-haul flying on some routes may actually do very well with the new system!  So it’s not all bad news.

3.   Folks Who Use Miles Earned From Credit Cards to Fly on Award Tickets

The new system will discourage folks who mileage run (buy very cheap tickets for long-distance routes) to earn miles to use towards award tickets later.  So award seat availability might actually improve on United Airlines!

This means there could be less competition for available award seats.

What About Earning Miles Through Credit Cards?

Link:   Chase United Explorer

Link:   Chase United Club

Link:   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   Chase Ink Bold

Link:   Chase Ink Plus

Link:   Chase Freedom

There’s NO change to how you earn miles from credit cards.  If you earn most of your United Airlines miles from credit card sign-up bonuses and spending, this change won’t have much of an effect.

In their FAQ, United Airlines says:

Does this change affect how I earn bonus award miles with my U.S.-based or international United MileagePlus credit card?  No.  If you hold a credit card that earns MileagePlus miles, nothing is changing with how you earn those miles.  For example, United MileagePlus Explorer cardmembers will earn two award miles for each $1 spent on tickets purchased from United.

So you’ll still be able to get the sign-up bonuses and earn 2 miles per $1 you spend on United Airlines with the Chase United Explorer and Chase United Club cards.  That said, I prefer using my Chase Sapphire Preferred because I’d get 2 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent which I can transfer to United or other airline or hotel partners.

And there’s no change to transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred, (no longer offered) Chase Ink Bold, and Chase Ink Plus cards to United Airlines.  If you have any of these cards and a Chase Freedom card, you can indirectly transfer your Chase Freedom points to United Airlines as well.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

Transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to United Airlines Isn’t Affected!

Will United Airlines Change How You Spend Miles?

Yes, but the changes aren’t clear yet.

United Airlines says they’ll be adding more and better ways to use miles.  This usually means options which either aren’t good values!

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

I’m Most Curious About the “More on the Way” Promise

Here’s a link to United Airlines’ current award chart.

Should You Change Your United Airlines Strategy?

If you earn most of your United Airlines miles from flying, you’ll probably want to look closely at how these changes will affect you.  But there is NO (repeat, NO!) change for most of us who earn United miles via credit cards!

Other airlines, like Delta, have already moved to a (partial) revenue-based frequent flyer program.  And I predicted that other airlines would follow with adding revenue components to earning miles and elite status.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

Delta Started the Trend Toward Revenue-Based Mileage Earning…Who’s Next?

You could consider switching to frequent flyer programs like American Airlines or Alaska Airlines which still earn miles based on distance flown.

But given the trend toward revenue based programs, I’m sure we’ll eventually see changes to earning miles on them, too.

Folks who flew United Airlines for inexpensive, long-distance domestic tickets to collect miles to use on international flights might now consider switching to airlines like Southwest or JetBlue for their domestic flying.

The free checked bags, cheap fares, modern planes, and quirky service on these airlines might be a lot more attractive now that folks won’t (usually) earn as many miles on United Airlines.

Remember, if you buy tickets on a Star Alliance or partner airline (as long as the ticket isn’t issued by United Airlines), you can still credit the miles to United Airlines under the old system.

How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected By The Changes At United Airlines

You’ll Still Earn Miles on American Airlines Based on Distance Flown…but for How Long?

Not much will change for folks who don’t earn United Airlines miles from flying.  What will likely change is how we’re able to use those miles for award tickets, but until United Airlines gives us more information, it’s hard to say exactly what the effect will be.

That said, if you’re planning on buying paid tickets United Airlines and can fly before the changes take effect on March 1, 2015, you’ll almost definitely earn more miles (unless you’re buying very expensive tickets!)

Bottom Line

United Airlines is changing its frequent flyer program to a revenue-based system for flights flown after March 1, 2015.  This means that instead of earning miles based on the distance flown, you’ll earn miles based on how much you paid for your ticket.

This change WILL NOT affect many of us who earn United Airlines miles from credit card bonuses and spending.  It WILL change things for folks who actually fly on United Airlines to earn miles.  But elite status qualification will still be based on distance flown.

While this is not great news, let’s remember that the game is constantly changing and we need to adapt.  There will always be ways to get Big Travel with Small Money, and I’ll keep you updated on them!

How will this announcement change your United Airlines strategy?

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17 responses to “How Your Travel Plans Will Be Affected by the Changes at United Airlines

  1. This post is a perfect example of why Daraius has the best miles and points blog. Instead of reading complaints and moaning over this change (as I’ve already read elsewhere), Daraius has showed there can be a few positives to be found here. The positivity and upbeat nature of this blog is what keeps me coming back every day. Thanks Daraius!

  2. So, does this mean that if I buy a ticket from a *A partner, say Lufthansa, with flights operated by UA and SN all flights would accrue milage based on the old system? Or would the UA segments still be subject to the new rules if purchased on LH stock?

  3. Your math did not take into account that you will not receive miles for government taxes., only carrier surcharges. So, in your Newark/London example, almost $400 of that price is actually government taxes and fees that do not count.

  4. I am a UA 1K and fly a mix of business/first class and economy, and a mix of international and domestic. Looking at my 2014 YTD flying, I would have earned at least 22,000 LESS miles under the new system (and in reality even less, as the PQD that I based the calculations on includes taxes, but I would not have earned miles on those taxes). Only one of my 22 YTD flights on UA would have earned more under the new system. Even my upcoming RT business-class flight to Mumbai would earn less (although only slightly less) under the new system. I have made my frustration known to UA and I hope everyone else will too. While I don’t expect them to totally reverse this change, if they hear enough negative feedback, they are at least likely to make some minor positive changes.

  5. Thank you for this really helpful post. As someone who is pursuing million mile status on United, I’d appreciate a post (or comment) about how United will tally lifetime miles. Will they still use actual miles flown or the new revenue-based points system?

  6. PuzzlingChange

    Before delving into my post, let’s all admit that the Miles and Points program are one huge gimmick. The total revenue collected by the airlines is basically a function of total money that the public as a whole is willing to spend on travel. That, my friends, is one huge zero sum game.

    Furthermore, once we admit the existence of the Miles and Points program, we also need to understand that a specific program, such as the United Airlines Mileage Plus Program, is also a zero-sum game.

    In this case, it is a zero-sum game among all the participants here. In other words, United Airlines is willing to give some hypothetical value to either mile flown or dollar spent in the form of a rebate, and issue that rebate to either credit card partners, retail partners, or fliers directly.

    If I were to summarize how miles are earned, then I would put two broad categories:

    – miles earned from flying,
    – miles earned from spending.

    Of course, in each category there are “legitimate” users and “shenanigan” users. We are all guilty of both kinds. What I mean by each is this:

    – miles earned from flying; legitimate users are those who need a flight, then search for that flight, and then buy it, and then fly it; shenanigan users are mileage runners, mistake fair exploiters, etc; business travelers finding amazing deals (read: cheap) for long-haul flights are somewhat border-line, as they are basically creating an unwanted tax similar to mileage runners,

    – miles earn from spending; legitimate users are people who put all their spending on the UA Mileage Explorer card and get 1 mile per dollar spend; shenanigan users are those who use every trick in the book to earn points no (or minimal) actual spend.

    My reading of this announcement is that United is mostly trying to hit the shenanigan fliers. But I can see that even legitimate or borderline fliers will be greatly affected.

    One reader above commented that Daraius did not exclude taxes from his calculations. Thus, his conclusions are more optimistic than reality. And another reader commented that out of 22 flights, only one yielded him better miles under the new system.

    So it is puzzling that United will change the program terms to affect the legitimate users in a negative way.

    What is even more puzzling is that shenanigan spenders do not get affected at all. Don’t get me wrong, I know at least one shenanigan spender from his birth very well, but it is kind of a puzzling business decision.

    This suggests one of two things:

    – shenanigan spenders do not create nearly as much of a tax on the system, as, say, shenanigan or borderline-shenanigan fliers,
    – United believes that while shenanigan spenders do create some kind of a tax on the system, United believes that having those shenanigan spenders is a good idea. For example, because United believes that shenanigan spenders are a good demographic.

    At any rate, the only rational conclusion to be made out of this change is: if you are a shenanigan spender, full steam ahead!

    Like they say: if you are not falling, then you are not skiing hard. So, please, ski harder now because in a year or so, you might not be able to ski that hard any more.

  7. I’m United silver and fly EWR/ORD roundtrip quite a bit. That’s 1,438 round trip miles plus my silver 25% bonus for a total of 1,798 miles. That ticket right now in late July is going for $406 economy (united site), so I would earn 2,842 miles (406 X 7) under the new system. If my math is correct and I’m not missing anything, it looks like I this change could benefit me.

  8. Oh yeah, taxes and fees. For this particular flight taxes and fees are $22, the ticket itself is $384, which comes out to 2,688 miles. I believe I would still be ahead.

  9. Darius
    Are you going to address the difficulties in booking award seats on the “US to Europe to Asia” topic? I have been trying your strategy on the UAL website (multi-destination, results per page) but the routes come back as “unavailable”.
    What gives?
    Thank you

    • @Robert – Thanks for reading!

      @elf618 – If they are ticketed on non UA stock and credited to UA, you should earn miles under the old way.

      @Jeffrey – United has changed their award rules, so you have to call to see what is valid now!

  10. Pingback: Chase United Airlines Explorer Sign-Up Bonus Increased to 50,000 Miles | Million Mile Secrets

  11. Do you know what happens if my round-trip begins in February (before the Mar 1 cutover) but the return leg is in April?

    Do I get the full mileage-based award miles for the whole trip (or) do I get only the $$ based miles on the return leg?

    I’d assume it’ll be the full miles since they’ll have to go to trouble to split the round trip cost into each way to assign miles if it were half and half each method.

  12. It seems that with my travel patterns I would make out really well in regards to points (I am Gold with UA). Will the number of points required for a rewards fare go up with this new program?

  13. Hello,

    what if I buy tickets from priceline.com or expedia? do I earn miles based on distance or cost? Thanks

  14. I’m not sure if I could make a reservation with award miles after March 1, 2015. I didn’t appreciate that “more on the way”, which looked as a lack of transparency to me. Well, I really do not like that changes, especially because will affect my earning miles in long distance flights (my family lives overseas).
    Will the amount of miles to get a award reservation flight change too?
    I have been flying just with United long years, but I am feeling umcomfortable with this lack of transparency this time. Thanks for reading.

  15. Wojciech Majewski

    I am 2 million mile flyer with United and have been 1K member for over 15 years in a row.
    The new rules are making me earn far less miles. For a flight from Singapore to Tokyo, which I take few times a year, after March 1 2015, I was credited only 2783 miles vs. previously 6656.
    I understand that the new program is designed to reward flyers who pay more for United services, but there is no reason to punish everyone else. I run my company and always try to keep the cost down.
    I called American Airlines where I have currently only a Gold status and they instantly offered me matching Executive Platinum membership. Bye bye United…