United Changes Its Frequent Flier Program: Some Ways to Earn Miles without Flying

United Airlines makes changes to it's frequent flier program business travelers
For anyone who likes to save money by playing the frequent flier game with airlines, United just made it a little harder for the average person to earn miles to qualify for free airline tickets. This isn’t a surprise. It’s a trend the airline industry has been heading toward for some time now, and it simply adds another major airline to the growing list rewarding those who fly and pay the most, over the average traveler who only makes a few trips a year.

The change comes in the way reward miles are given as part of the frequent flyer program. When frequent flyer programs began, those who participated were rewarded by the number of miles flown. For each mile flown, a member would earn a mile. This setup could be quite profitable for those who knew how to find bargains on the airlines. For example, those who purchased ultra-cheap tickets for long-distance flights could rack up frequent flyer miles much faster and at less cost than business people who were paying full-price fares, but flying shorter distances.

The recent trend has been to move away from the number of miles flown, and base the rewards on the number of dollars spent. In other words, to focus on those who are spending the most money on the airline. These people tend to be business travelers who buy the more expensive, fully refundable tickets, which bring in the most profit to the airlines. Other airlines which have made the switch from miles flown to dollars-spent based programs include Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America.

Beginning in March 2015, United Airlines will change its loyalty program to benefit those who fly a minimum of 25,000 miles a year on the airline. These fliers will earn silver, gold, platinum or 1K status as part of the program, and earn more miles than the basic member. They’ll earn between 7 miles and 11 miles for each dollar they spend on an airline ticket, excluding taxes and other fees. On the other hand, those who fly less than 25,000 miles and spent less than $2,500 a year on United tickets will only receive 5 miles per dollar.

The new MileagePlus rewards program will reward miles in the following tiers:

  • Basic: 5 miles per $1 spent (those flying less than 25,000 and spending less than $2,500 the previous year)
  • Silver: 7 miles per $1 spent (those flying 25,000 and spending $2,500)
  • Gold: 8 miles per $1 spent (those flying 50,000 and spending $5,000)
  • Platinum: 9 miles per $1 spent (those flying 75,000 and spending $7,500)
  • 1K: 11 miles per $1 spent (those flying 100,000 and spending $10,000)

While the structure for earning reward miles will change, United is not planning to change the amount of miles needed to earn free tickets at this time.

While this will make it more difficult for the average consumer to earn the free perks that come with the United Airlines MileagePlus program, there are still ways to earn miles for the program that don’t require you to actually buy the ticket. Below are a few of them:

Credit Cards

United has a few Visa Signature credit cards that earn miles issued through Chase bank: the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, the United MileagePlus Club card and United MileagePlus Presidential Plus card. The more you spend, the more points you accrue, which can often be used toward airline miles. The amount of miles you earn depends on the card and what you’re purchasing. For example, the Explorer card offers 2 miles for every $1 spent on United airline tickets purchased, plus 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. For those who make a lot of purchases on their credit card while always paying off the credit card in full each month, these cards can help to greatly increase the number of miles in their MileagePlus account.


There are a lot of smartphone apps which reward you with benefits for checking into certain locations or making purchases at a certain store. CheckPoints is one of those apps. With CheckPoints, you earn points for checking into a store, buying an item, scan product barcodes, or qualify for certain offers. These points can then be converted into airline miles. If you’re someone who is always on their smartphone, this app could be a great way to earn some extra airline miles.


A lot of programs are offering airline points for the money spent at specific stores. These can range from clothing to home goods to discount stores. For instance, United offers convertible points for money spent at specific online retailers. If you were already planning to make a purchase at any of these stores, it’s a great way to rack up extra points without doing anything different from your normal routine.

In the same way, you can earn extra miles in the MileagePlus program for using certain hotels, rental car agencies, financial services, and dining at particular restaurants. The key to all of these is if you were going to pay for the services anyway, you can earn extra miles toward a free flight. It’s important, however, to make sure you don’t purchase any of them for the miles when you wouldn’t have otherwise made it.

(Photo courtesy of Aero Icarus)

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3 Responses to United Changes Its Frequent Flier Program: Some Ways to Earn Miles without Flying

  1. Wayne French says:

    I wonder who they think fills the most seats in an airplane. I have flown first class, business class and economy. There is always seats that are not sold in first class and business class. I usually fly 4 to 5 times a year and for being a loyal United flier I will now be penalized because I am not fortunate to be rich. Between congress and the rich there will be no more middle class. MAYBE they should create a middle class business section. What a joke.

  2. Phil says:

    As a former elite-level Continental member, I can tell you that the switch to being a United elite-level member was anything but clean. In fact, on one post-merger trip with a connection between the two airlines this year, I was given priority boarding on the first leg, only to be unceremoniously (and somewhat rudely) sent to the back of the line on the connecting flight. I don’t mind waiting my turn, but to be publicly shamed at the front of a packed boarding area was uncalled for and unpleasant. Even now, on our last trip as a family, getting everyone’s account numbers updated and miles assigned was a hassle, and I’m still not sure the miles were tallied.
    No wonder UNITED is the dead last in a customer service ranking of the major airlines.

  3. I’ve been using some applications for the Smartphone that can help me to get a reward. My friend introduces this to me and from now on, I always do use it regularly.

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