Travelers who fly the most and pay the most will soon earn more miles on United Airlines' frequent-flier program.
The change will help elite members of United's loyalty program -- those who fly at least 25,000 miles a year on the airline. It will be far less-rewarding for people who currently rack up miles by taking occasional long flights at bargain fares.
Starting next March 1, elite-level members of MileagePlus will earn between 7 and 11 miles for every dollar they spend on tickets, not counting taxes. Regular members -- people who fly less than 25,000 miles and spend less than $2,500 a year on United -- will get 5 miles per dollar toward free travel.
United joins Delta, Southwest and JetBlue in basing awards on money spent, not miles flown.
Since 1981, when American Airlines started the first big loyalty program in the airline industry, fliers were rewarded for the number of miles they flew regardless of how much they paid for their ticket.
In the last few years, however, Virgin America, JetBlue, Southwest and Delta have retooled their programs to favor passengers who spend the most. It's part of a larger strategy to appeal to high-spending passengers, especially business travelers who buy expensive, fully refundable tickets, sometimes in the first- or business-class cabin.
"These changes are designed to more directly recognize the value of our members when they fly United," Thomas O'Toole, president of the airline's MileagePlus program, said in a statement.
While basic MileagePlus members will earn 5 miles per dollar, awards for top fliers will depend on their status level. For each dollar, they will earn:
- 7 miles for "silver" passengers (25,000 miles and $2,500 in spending the previous year).
- 8 miles for "gold" status (50,000 miles and $5,000).
- 9 miles for "platinum" (75,000 and $7,500).
- 11 miles for "1K" passengers (100,000 and $10,000).
United did not reveal any change in levels for redeeming miles. A spokesman said they would not change.
Economy-class round trips usually cost 25,000 to 50,000 miles for U.S. flights; 60,000 to 130,000 miles between the U.S. and Europe; and up to 170,000 miles to fly from the U.S. to the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Australia or New Zealand and back. More miles are needed for first- or business-class.
United said that passengers will earn miles for every dollar they spend on base fares and the airline's own surcharges, such as for fuel. Money spent on bag fees and other amenities and taxes will not count.
The changes will apply to most tickets for United and United Express flights and tickets that United sells on partner airlines. There will be a maximum of 75,000 miles earned per ticket.
United said that it would give members new ways to redeem miles. Beginning next year, they will be able to cash in miles to cover economy-class seats with more legroom and bag-checking fees.