United to revamp MileagePlus: what it means for Aussie travellers

By Chris C., June 11 2014
United to revamp MileagePlus: what it means for Aussie travellers

United Airlines is revamping its MileagePlus loyalty program next year, with miles to be earned based on the ticket price rather than the distance flown.

That’s great news if you often travel on expensive, flexible fares – but quite a blow if you’re normally stuck in economy.

The changes kick in from March 1 2015, from which entry-level members will earn five miles per US dollar spent on base fares and airline surcharges (including fuel surcharges), but excluding amounts paid for government taxes and levies.

Premier Silver, Gold, Platinum and 1K flyers continue to earn miles at an increased rate – now aligning to seven, eight, nine and eleven miles per dollar, respectively, up to a maximum of 75,000 miles per itinerary (not per flight).

These changes apply to most United and United Express flights – including those between Australia and the U.S. – and kick in regardless of when you purchased the ticket.

The new earning structure also covers flights on United’s partner airlines where the ticket has been sold by United.

For all other Star Alliance flights where United hasn’t sold the ticket, the earning rates remain both unchanged and distance-based.

The qualification requirements for the various Premier status levels, along with United's favourable redemption rates for flights between Australia and Asia also remain untouched.

What you’ll earn from March 2015

The real winners here are business class passengers jetting from Sydney to Los Angeles and back, with some earn rates near-doubling the present day figures.

On a return transpacific trek in business class, members without Premier status will reel in roughly 31,885 miles on a A$6,805 fare.

That’s a vast improvement on the current haul of 22,461 miles if booked in one of the cheaper business class ‘fare buckets'.

On that same ticket, Premier Gold and Platinum members would earn 51,016 and 57,393 miles respectively, a huge jump from the present rates of 29,948 and 33,691 miles.

Down the back of the bus, it’s a different story.

Using an example fare of A$1,322 between Sydney and LAX, the new rates would net you roughly 6,195 miles on a return journey – plummeting from the current bounty of 14,974 miles on the same flights.

Based on current exchange rates, the earn of Premier Gold and Platinum flyers also takes a considerable dive.

Gold-level members would pick up about 9,912 miles on the return trip – down from 16,845 – while Platinum-grade travellers can grab only 11,151 miles.

That’s a 71% reduction in the number of miles earned at the Platinum level, with these members currently earning 39,306 miles on the same flights.

The revamp comes as Qantas also prepares to make its frequent flyer program more revenue-focussed from next month.

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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

03 Jan 2012

Total posts 96

Chris, it's funny to see that no one has bothered to comment on this article. Could it be that Australians are sensible enought not to care because United really is a totally rubbish US airline?  I've never had the misfortune to fly them across the Pacific. But unfortunately, I do often have to use them with the US itself.  My experience - and perhaps I'm just really unlucky - but they've probably cancelled something like 50% of the flights I've been booked on in the last 5 years. That's about 10 from 20 flights.  It seems that almost any United flight that transits through Denver (smack bankg in the middle of America) has a fairly good chance of being cancelled on the day of travel by United. 

24 Dec 2013

Total posts 97

I've just returned from a trip to the US flying United economy and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. I sat in Economy Plus which was quite spacious for economy seats, the personal TVs had a very good selection of new movies and TV shows on demand. All flights on time. I can't really fault the experience and would definitely not rank it below QF or VA.

With this change in United's programme is appears more than likely that changes to Aadvantage is on the way (Delta, the 3rd of the Big 3 are also revenue based).  To what extent will it be revenue based and neutralise any benefits of AA's System-Wide Upgrades?

AU based Aadvantage members, it's time to seriously work on contingency plans. UA has given their members 8 months lead time. Assuming that is the industry average lead time and Aadvantage accrual year remains unchanged beginning 1 Jan, I suspect any changes to come into effect from 1 Jan 2016. 

Thoughts anyone?

03 Jan 2012

Total posts 96

Chris, in answer to you question, while I'm not a "money is no option" kind of traveller, typically if I'm booked on a flight in the USA it's because I need to get somewhere for a meeting.  So normally, I end up buying a brand new ticket over the phone at the airport with another airline that will get me where I'm needing to be going on time.  Basically, I end up paying twice over! Not ideal solution.  As an example, I needed to get to Pittsburgh on Thursday May 29th. The 1230pm flight I was booked on - via Denver - was cancelled with one hour to go.  I was told I would be re-booked on next available - Sunday 1st June!  I ended up paying US$1,200 for a one way with Delta that arrived on 29th for my meeting next day.

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