The end is coming March 1, 2015. That’s when United MileagePlus switches to a revenue based program (Delta too) and all the fun of flying to collect miles is destroyed. Under the current model, award miles are earned based on the distance flown with multiples for elite status and paying for premium cabins. It’s an easy system to understand, fly 1,000 earn 1,000 miles plus any bonuses. Under the new model, award miles are earned based on the fare paid with bonuses for elite status. So flying 1,000 miles could earn everyone on board a different amount. To add to the confusion, the fare paid isn’t your ticket price, but the base fare minus certain taxes. Most flyers won’t know what they earn until it posts to their account. This new model will be confusing to customers and remove some fun arbitrage opportunities for me.
United 737 at Denver
I enjoy flying commercial, even while in coach. I’m strange like that, but being in air is fun for me. I also value frequent flyer miles like a physical currency, each one is worth one to two cents. This lead me to take flights to collect frequent flyer miles, often called a mileage run. The destination of my journey didn’t matter and most times I didn’t leave the airport, often departing on the same aircraft that flew me in. I could pay $300 for a 10,000 mile trip and earn 20,000 frequent flyer miles worth more to me than the $300 fare I paid. Since I enjoy flying and was often upgraded, it was an enjoyable and profitable experience. United benefited too because I was spending money on an empty seat and they value award miles much less than I do. Everyone wins and I met some interesting people along the way, a few flight attendants remember me because I have a unique pronunciation of “Miller Lite please.”
US Airways Express Embraer 175
The new mileage earning system removes all arbitrage opportunities for me. I had enjoyed standing by for flights that add a connection to my travels too, flying via Cleveland rather than the direct flight I booked. Earning miles for distance flown made this an easy way to pick up some extra points. Under the new model my fare will be divided between the two flights, so flying direct earns the same as the connecting option.
Delta & United at LGA
United's new program, like in other areas is following Delta’s lead, will drastically change my view of frequent flyer programs and the value they offer. I suspect I’ll fly direct more, never fly just for miles, and earn the majority of my miles through partners on the ground. I have one last mileage run booked in January, but it’s a domestic trip so I won’t be able to toast the end of an era with champagne, but a Miller Lite may work.