Blockbuster change in the wings for United's top fliers
Frequent flier miles no longer count toward elite status
Today, United Airlines announced that it is making a major change in the way its most frequent fliers earn Premier status in the MileagePlus program.Very frequent short-haul fliers and very big spenders will be happy about this. Not so much for everyone else.
Starting in January, the basis for earning Premier status will be based solely on two criteria: the amount of money you spend with United and how many flights you take each year. Miles flown will no longer count.
Luc Bondar, United's vice president of loyalty, told SFGATE that the new program should make it "more transparent and easier to understand how to earn and track progress toward Premier status" compared to the current scheme which allows members to get in based on a combination of miles (PQMs) and/or segments (PQSs) flown and dollars (PQDs) spent.
With the new program, there are just two ways to get in (along with two new acronyms): Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs). Miles no longer count at all. You can earn status based on a combination of points and flights, or on points alone.
Spending $1 with United will net you one PQP in the new program. Also new: "Flights" replaces "segments" in United's new nomenclature. Important: Your ability to earn miles to redeem for award travel will not change.
To earn silver status, you'll have to spend at least $4,000 per year and take 12 flights (six nonstop roundtrips)- spend $5,000 on a minimum of four flights.
Gold status will require an $8,000 spend and 24 flights (or 12 roundtrips)- or spend $10,000 on a minimum of four flights.
Platinum status will mean spending $12,000 and taking 36 flights (18 roundtrips)- or spend a minimum of $15,000 on at least four flights.
1K status requires spending a whopping $18,000 per year and taking 54 flights (26 roundtrips)- or you can spend $24,000 on at least four flights.
(To compare, here's a link to United's current Premier qualifying requirements.)
To help fliers get to those hefty new spending levels, United will apply dollars spent to the fare as well as dollars spent to upgrade, for co-payments on award flights and on tickets purchased on United's international Star Alliance partners. But "dollars spent" applies to fare only, not taxes and fees, which can be substantial.
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Currently, members spending at least $25,ooo per year on a United credit card are able to waive the spend requirement to rise to elite levels. That will change, too. A spokesperson said, "We came up with a new benefit that helps cardmembers earn status faster through a combination of card spend, United spend and flight activity. Moving forward, cardmembers will earn 500 PQPs toward status by spending $12,000, and an additional 500 PQPs when they spend an additional $12,000. That means they start earning toward status at an even lower threshold than before."
United says it will also eliminate the confusing array of fare class multipliers.
Overall, this is good news for short-haul flyers who build up segments (er, flights) quickly. It also rewards people who live in non-hub cities who must connect when flying United. It will also appeal to big spenders who think nothing of dropping $5,000+ on a few international business class flights per year, and feel like there are too many people with elite status anyway, as this will likely thin the ranks at the very top.
Also some good news for Million Milers, or those about to hit Million Miler status with United: That part of the program will not change. Mileage will still be tracked toward Million Mile status.
But it's bad news for travelers living in United hubs (like San Francisco) who enjoy flying nonstop versus one-stop flights to just about anywhere. It's also bad news for those who take a few cheap, long distance flights per year to build up miles to reach Premier. It is also not good news for "gamers" who work the system to spend as little as possible while maximizing the number of miles they earn. This effectively ends the "mileage run" at United and these changes transition MileagePlus into a purely revenue driven program.
This is one of several changes that United has made to its frequent flier program over the last year or so- most recently, it replaced RPUs and GPUs with PlusPpoints, and dropped expiration on miles, and changed the spending requirements for elite status
How will this affect your status and loyalty to United? Sound off in THE COMMENTS.
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Chris McGinnis is the founder of TravelSkills.com. The author is solely responsible for the content above, and it is used here by permission. You can reach Chris at [email protected] or on Twitter @cjmcginnis.