Should I Drop United if I Fly Mostly Long Haul?

Sep 28, 2014

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TPG reader Alvin asked me on Facebook:

“I’m an infrequent flyer with United and Star Alliance (two long haul domestic round-trips and a transpacific each year). Since United is shifting to a fare-based mileage plan, this negates my travel style. Should I cash out soon and put my miles on another Star Alliance carrier?”

This year there were a lot of changes with elite status programs like United and Delta adding requirements to spend a certain amount of qualifying dollars in order to gain elite status. However, in January 2015, they’re also going to change the number of redeemable miles that you earn on every single flight. Instead of how far you fly, it’s how much you spend that will determine your mileage. Therefore, if you fly long haul flights on cheap coach fares, there’s a good chance you’re going to come out way behind with this new revenue requirement.

On the other hand, if you’re doing last minute, expensive short haul flights or business class, you’re going to earn way more miles than you would flying farther for cheaper.

TPG reader Alvin is curious what he should do to maximize his mileage with the new requirements given his travel style of a few longer flights per year, and whether he should bank his miles to another Star Alliance carrier.

My advice to Alvin is that if you’re attached to Star Alliance, I would definitely look at other Star Alliance frequent flyer programs. Within North America we’ve got Aeroplan. It isn’t perfect by any means, but they do offer one-way awards. There are fees on certain carriers, so you’ll generally spend more out of pocket, but you’ll earn more as well. Consider which fare classes you tend to fly in currently and see where that would get you with Aeroplan.

Singapore's Krisflyer program is often overlooked but may work for you. Shutterstock.
Singapore’s Krisflyer program is often overlooked, but may work for you. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

Another program that’s often overlooked is Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. Generally KrisFlyer has high taxes and fees on award tickets, but if you’re flying Singapore Airlines, especially to Asia, it could make sense to redeem there. With all the negative changes, switching to a different alliance altogether could be the right choice. Flying Cathay Pacific to Asia is pretty nice, and those American Airlines miles are still pretty valuable, so consider a change to Oneworld.

This is a great time for everyone to re-evaluate their loyalty going into 2015. If you’ve been flying an airline “just because,” shop around and see what your options are.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook, or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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