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Big Changes to Earning United MileagePlus Miles Start Today

March 01, 2015
5 min read
Big Changes to Earning United MileagePlus Miles Start Today
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It's March 1st, and the arrival of a new month is the arrival of a new era at United MileagePlus. Gone are the days that miles are awarded based on how many miles you fly at United, but now it's all about the money, honey.

Effective today you will earn United miles at the following rates:

  • General Member 5x
  • Silver Member 7x
  • Gold Member 8x
  • Platinum Member 9x
  • 1K Member 11x

On a $300 ticket a general member would earn about 1,500 redeemable MileagePlus miles, and a 1K elite member would earn 3,300 redeemable miles for the same $300 ticket. You earn miles on the base fare + carrier imposed surcharges (not taxes). Fare class no longer matters in terms of earning redeemable miles with United purchased and credited tickets as it is all about the amount you spend. There is a max earning of 75,000 redeemable miles per ticket. These changes do not impact elite status thresholds as those are still earned based on how many miles you fly, well, as long as you also hit the revenue component for elites status. Confusing enough, yet?

Look at Crediting United Flights to Other Programs to Earn More Miles:

I still care about elite status with United to some degree (though a bit less every day), so for now I am still crediting my flights to United not only for the redeemable miles, but for the purposes of elite status.

However, if you don't at all care about elite status, you can potentially credit your United flights to another partner program that still awards redeemable miles based on the distance you fly. If you want to go this route, you better get real familiar with fare classes as these will determine how many miles you earn in other programs. Also note that those rates can change at any time, so check early and often leading up to departure.

Example of How a United Flight Earns Differently in Different Programs:

A real life example of how big these changes are can be seen on flights to Europe we have booked in the coming weeks. The airfare + carrier imposed surcharges come to $549 per ticket (which is a great deal for a round trip ticket to Europe!). We are booked in K class, and the number of flown miles is roughly 10,100 miles.

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Under the system that ended yesterday I would have earned 17,675 redeemable United miles on that itinerary as a Platinum elite member. Under the new system I will earn just 4,941 redeemable miles - ouch!! My non-status mom will earn a whopping 2,745 redeemable miles for a paid ticket to Europe and back.

However, we could credit the miles to another partner program to earn more redeemable miles. Here are a few examples of where we could credit the miles, and how many miles would be awarded.

Singapore: 10,100 miles (100% of flown miles in K class)

Air Canada: 5050 miles (50% of flown miles in K class)

ANA: 5050 miles (50% of flown miles in K class)

Avianca: 5050 miles (50% of flown miles in K class)

Lufthansa: 2525 miles (25% of flown miles in K class)

As an elite member this won't end up making that much sense for me right now, but for my mom 10,100 Singapore KrisFlyer miles may be a much better idea than just 2,745 redeemable United miles. This is especially true since she can top off her Singapore account with transfers from Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards via cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

I do not recommend crediting miles randomly into lots of programs that you won't easily be able to use, but it may make sense to find a couple of good alternate programs that you can top off with transfers from your rewards credit cards. Again, I do not recommend crediting to partner programs for everyone as 2,745 United miles you know you will use is better than 5,000 - 10,000 you will let go to waste in another program.

To credit to another program you will need to have that program's frequent flyer number in your reservation instead of your United number.

When you are flying on a partner issued ticket that you credit to United (ticket number must not start with 016), you will still earn United miles based on how many miles you fly, but again, pay very close attention to the earning rates for the fare class you purchased.

Travel Isn't the Best Way to Earn Miles:

For most of us who travel on cheaper tickets, travel isn't really the best way to earn miles anymore, if it even was before March 1st. Rewards credit cards, online shopping portals, dining programs, etc. are much easier ways to rack up United miles than flying to Europe and back for a measly 2,745 miles.

Welcome to a new world at United MileagePlus, a world that I am not excited about at all. Time to get smarter, more strategic, and even less loyal. Be loyal just to your own wallet, as there is no doubt that is all a business like United is loyal to under this revenue based earning model.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.