Crappy new changes coming to United’s MileagePlus program

United MileagePlus

United has announced that it is taking a page from Delta’s SkyMiles program and going revenue based. This will affect most budget-travelers negatively.

“As of March 1, 2015, the award miles you earn on most United and United Express® tickets will be based on your ticket price (that is, base fare plus carrier-imposed surcharges) instead of the distance you fly.”

Full details are available at United: http://mileageplusupdates.com.

This change doesn’t really come as a surprise to me. I’ve always considered status with an airline as secondary to getting inexpensive tickets and I don’t believe that loyalty to United or any airline is worth it — you will need to spend far too much in travel for what the crappy perks are worth. Instead, you should build inexpensive travel itineraries with whomever can do it the best and cheapest.

Let’s look at some of these changes in more detail.

  1. “Members earn 5 miles per dollar spent on travel.” A $1000 ticket to Asia will earn 5000 miles, more if you have elite status with United or CPM 20.00. Contrast this to our most recent Untied travel post: [Flights: Houston / Austin (IAH / AUS) to Jakarta (CGK) $975 round-trip 1-stop]. If you fly that today, you would earn 20526 miles; 4.75 CPM . With United’s upcoming changes, you will have to pay $4000 instead of $975 for the same amount of miles. Let that one sink in.
  2. “You will be able to earn up to 75,000 award miles per ticket.” This is not a benefit, this is a penalty. If you have 1k Elite status with United, you will earn 11 miles per dollar spent. This is probably the first time I’ve seen a loyalty program penalize it’s highest revenue class, but somehow that makes sense to do at Untied. What this means is if you’re buying a full-fare or first-class ticket that costs more than $6818, you will only get 75,000 miles, any miles that you should have gotten by spending more money will just disappear. While I doubt any of us on Escape Houston will ever spend that much on a United ticket, I’m sure that there is a business class sucker out there that will get hit with this.
  3. Tickets for flights operated by a Star Alliance™ or MileagePlus partner airline that aren’t issued by United (ticket numbers that don’t start with “016”) will still earn award miles based on distance flown and the purchased fare class. This just screams, “Fly our codeshare partners instead of us if you want to earn miles”.
  4. While this isn’t a new change, I’ll go ahead and list it here anyway: You have to meet minimum spending requirements as well as butt-in-seat distance requirements to earn elite status with United. Really, this is stupid. They should just pick either revenue or distance and just standardize their crappy program. Instead you get the chance to be one of the lucky ones that have spent more than $2500 on their travel for the year, but only traveled 24,000 miles — no elite status for you!

Here are a few ideas that come to mind.

  1. If you’re trying to earn United MileagePlus miles: Use your United MileagePlus account for flights operated by Star Alliance or MileagePlus partner airlines. You’ll get miles based on distance instead of how much you spent. Double check the reward accrual charts and make sure your booking class earns miles.
  2. If you regularly travel to Asia and usually use your reward miles for flights in that region: Open a frequent flyer account with All Nippon Airways, and use your ANA account when booking United flights. You will earn miles on a distance based system instead of a revenue based one. You can then use those miles via the ANA award portal for United flights to most of Asia.
  3. Be the opposite of loyal, fly whomever can get you to your destination the cheapest. These changes to MileagePlus makes mileage accrual so expensive that you can just act like it’s not even there. You want my business for a 20.0 CPM benefit? NO.
  4. Don’t use the United MileagePlus Explorer card. It offers you 2 miles per dollar spent with United. Instead, use a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred which will earn 2 points per dollar spent when you buy “Travel” — which means any purchase of a travel product, flight, or hotel from anyone (such as Expedia, American Airlines, Hyatt, or United). There is no reason to have your credit card reward locked into such a crappy program. Chase points can be transferred into the loyalty programs of many airlines and travel partners, so it’s like you’re earning points in whatever program you may need them in. It is this flexibility that makes it the best travel credit card to have in my opinion. See screenshot below.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase points can be transferred at Full value to many programs.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but I’m not exactly the biggest fan of these changes. What do you think? Send me a message if I missed anything here.

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