United Airlines Is Changing How They Calculate Distances For Mileage Accrual

When you buy a United Airlines ticket, and credit the miles to United’s MileagePlus program, the ‘miles’ you earn are now based on the price of the ticket, not the distance flown. It’s odd to even call them miles anymore.

However, in general when you’re flying on a partner ticket or on an airline partner the mileage you earn is still based on the distance flown (adjusted for the fare class of your ticket).

It’s much less important than it used to be how many miles United things you’ve flown, but the airline is changing the method they use to calculate distances between two airports. That’ll mean some customers earn more miles and some earn fewer. And that matters also because ‘Million Miler’ status is still based on distances flown.

United is reminding employees that under the terms of the MileagePlus program they can change this at will – and they’re doing so – as highlighted by the perspicacious Brian Sumers.

This also matters because some fares use a ‘maximum permitted mileage’ for travel between to places, so the number of miles you actually fly affects whether or not you stay within the fare’s rules.

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. I think its the PQP that’s based on dollars only – the number of award miles you earn is still based on distance, isn’t it?

  2. Your claim that this affects maximum permitted mileage is incorrect. Maximum permitted mileage is based on an industry standard table of distances, not on whatever UA uses to calculate miles for MileagePlus earning purposes.

  3. Every time United announces some changes, they are always bad news for flyers. I wonder if Gary or anyone can give examples or explain a little more on this.

  4. @Alan – United *doesn’t* suggest here this is only for MileagePlus so I’m looking for other plausible places it might matter

  5. You’d think they could spend their IT money and time on something to improve customer service.

  6. Flashback to the early Smisek days when United tried to significantly shrink the globe because they wanted to award fewer miles–one of UA’s all-time low points for me. Now that “miles” aren’t at all based on miles flown, I have to wonder whether it is really worth it to screw people from lifetime status.

  7. Another reason to avoid united. In 8 days I missed 3 Connections that required me to pay for a hotel room. If it isn’t a direct flight I won’t fly united. At one time I had 600,000 miles banked. I avoid them if at all possible.

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