If You Fly United, Soon There May Be No Way Out

With United’s new revenue-based frequent flyer program for earning miles from flying, you earn miles based on the price of your ticket and not based on the distance you fly when traveling on United.

  • The ‘break-even’ price to earn the same miles in 2015 that you would have earned in 2014 is a ticket that costs about 20 cents per mile.

  • That’s above their average revenue per passenger seat mile flown.

  • So on average folks are positioned to earn fewer miles from their flying under the new program.

As a result, it is worth asking whether — if you must fly United — to credit those miles to the MileagePlus program or to credit to a partner airline.

If you are going to earn elite status, credit to United. You may earn fewer miles, but you can still earn status (the revenue requirement for status equates to just 12 cents per mile). You’ll get some upgrades, free checked bags, and airport priority. And elite status bonuses for flown miles help close the gap with what you’ll earn through other programs.

But if you’re an occasional United flyer, you may do better elsewhere. There are still programs out there that will award you with more miles for your United flights than United will.

Unfortunately, as the new United earning program went into effect, the window shut to be able to earn full mileage for all United fares with Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles.

Some folks went looking to Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus for salvation, since they offered 100% mileage earning on all United fares. But that’s changed, too.

I have to think that change is driven on the United side of things, out of their desire for other programs not to be more generous with their flights than MileagePlus is.

And if that’s the case then we can expect eventually for Singapore Airlines Krisflyer — currently my favorite place to credit United flights — to implement changes as well to award fewer miles on discount United fares.

Then there’ll be truly No Way Out.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary,

    I’ve been asleep on this. Does this mean that if I fly economy LAX-YYZ, I’m not earning 1 mile per?

    If so, does krisflyer credit 1 mile per on discounted economy?

    I’m taking six members of my family and we are all back in steerage on Air Canada and were going to credit to our United accounts — until I saw this post.

  2. If you’re flying AC you need to look at partner rules. AC discounted economy credits fifty percent to United, and fifty percent to Singapore already

  3. My email today to Jeffrey.Smisek at United dot com, with copy to Suzanne Rubin, President of AAdvantage:

    Jeffrey –

    I was a huge fan of Gordon Bethune’s quality of service standard at Continental and thought you carried it over nicely, had high hopes for United.

    However, when I recently bought a ticket OKC-FLL and got my confirm email, it said I’d only earn half the miles I’ve always gotten. This caused me to cancel and rebook with AA where I get what the full miles I’d always gotten for 40 years with United.

    You cannot take away half of what customers have always gotten and expect them to remain customers when a competitor gives them the full amount.

    Please let me know when you change back to giving us what we’ve always gotten.

    Yours very truly,


  4. @Mo:

    Don’t kid yourself. AA is playing nice to keep people onboard (pun intended) with the program while the merger goes through. Once the dust has settled, they’ll do the same thing as UA and DL.

  5. So, basically, the USA will go to the model that Europe and Asia have had since forever, where cheap Y fares get you as little as 10% mileage?

    BTW, SQ has fares that earn you 10% KF mileage… so I wouldn’t expect them to give 100% on cheap UA fares forever…

  6. thank you Gary.

    so if on an Air Canada Economy T ticket and earning only 25 percent for United, where would you credit? anything at 100 percent?

  7. @mmt well it’s not 100% earning any longer on discount fares, and there aren’t a lot of ways to top off a turkish account besides flying, so i don’t love it.

  8. @Michael that only earns 50% with Singapore. I think the first place to start is looking at where else you can reasonably earn. You don’t want to earn miles in a program and then strand them, without a way to top off to enough miles for an award. and then you look from that limited subset for the best earn.

  9. There’s basically no reason anymore to maintain loyalty to UA. Now that they’ve added so many 737’s the FC cabin is so small that even 1K’s rarely get their upgrades. At some point they’ll lose so many of their better customers they’ll have to adjust back the other way but until that happens they’ll continue to find ways to make the program less valuable. It would be something else if their service and planes were so outstanding it was worth the devaluation but honestly it’s not worth it. After flying in coach on a slim line seat for almost 4 hours my back kills me.

  10. Flying united “n” class soon. I get 50% with Turkish, but with united almost nothing based on the fare. Also flying Turkish internationally soon in “o” class. I would get nothing on united but get 50% on Turkish. I have stopped united ff and only building Turkish now…..

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