Airline Aristocracy

The rich get richer: United's revamped frequent-flier program rewards big-bucks travelers

United's revamped frequent-flier program rewards big-bucks travelers

United Airlines comparison chart
A comparison chart of how many points you would receive on a $598 ticket from Houston to New York on August 1st.  Photo by Kate Bentsen
United Airlines, jet, airplane
United Airlines comparison chart

United Airlines has revamped its Mileage Plus frequent-flier program and it's getting mixed reviews. Starting March 1, 2015, points will accumulate based on the amount you pay for a ticket, not the number of miles flown. Depending on how much of a procrastinator you are, you will either praise or loathe the modifications.

After taking a closer look, this appears to mean a serious deduction of points for those who book their long distance travel in advance for cheap prices, and a hefty return on your investment for customers who wait until the last minute and splurge for the uber expensive seats.

Either way, United is the true winner.

Depending on how much of a procrastinator you are, you will either praise or loathe the modifications. 

The number of points received will multiply depending on your Mileage Plus Member status. Ordinary premier members, who fly less than 25,000 miles a year, will receive 5 points per dollar, 7 points per dollar for Silver (those who fly 25,000 - 49,999 miles per year), 8 points per mile for Gold (50,000 – 74,999), 9 points for Platinum (75,000 - 99,999) and 11 points for the elite 1K (100,000 and up).

For example, let’s say you are headed to New York (La Guardia to be specific) as I am for an end-of-summer getaway on Friday, Aug. 1. If you booked the ticket today, a non-stop, round trip flight would cost $746.50. The following is a comparison of how many miles you would accumulate on the current program vs. the future benefits program:

Member with no Premier Status: 2,832 points now vs. 3,732.5 points on the new plan

Premier Silver: 3,540 points  vs. 5,225.5 points

Premier Gold: 4,248 points vs. 5,952 points 

Premier Platinum: 4,956 points vs. 6,718.5 points 

1K: 5,664 points vs. 8,211.5 points

However, if you wait until a month later, when the peak summer travel season is over, the round-trip fare to New York drops to around $305 and you wind up a big loser in the travel points department — 2,832 points under the current system vs. 1,522 on the new plan for a flier with the lowest level of premier status.

If you want to try some comparisons yourself, check out the calculator for the current miles here and the new plan here.

Some more changes regarding the program: No more additional miles for flying first class. It will simply be calculated by the fare you pay. But don’t throw away your long-distance trips just yet; your level of premier status will still be calculated based on your miles flown, not how much you spend.

United appears to be following in the footsteps of Delta Airlines, which announced an almost identical change to its Skymiles program that will take place Jan. 1, 2015. American Airlines remains the lone holdout among the major U.S. headlines. The Dallas-based carrier is sticking to its current rewards program for AAdvantage members.