Best Point Earning Elite Status The Basics

Do These Airline Earning Changes Affect You?

Written by Charlie

With United’s (unsurprising) announcement yesterday that they will following Delta down the limited earning path come 2015, many travelers are wondering how these changes affect them. Here are some things to look at as you answer that question.

Do These Airline Earning Changes Affect You? 

It is amazing at the level of “outrage” and “shock” that so many in the media and frequent flyer communities exhibited yesterday about the United changes. I am not sure if it was just to let United know that they were unwelcome or if these individuals really did not see this coming. Ever since Delta announced their changes to a revenue based earning system, it has been expected that United would follow suit with a similar program. What United actually did was to follow Delta’s plan to the “T” with their changes. Surprise? No. So, does it affect you?

Mileage Runner

I wrote a post on Monday about mileage running vs mattress running and made the following statement – Mileage running is becoming more impractical as time goes by since it is very easy to earn a lot of miles through credit card bonuses and spending. Probably the only airline worth doing any type of serious mileage running on is American Airlines because of their valuable 8 upgrade certificates that can be applied to the cheapest coach ticket to upgrade to business (or to a business ticket to upgrade to first).” 

People have been talking and writing for a while that the practice of mileage running was really going by the wayside as it has become so much easier to earn miles through credit cards than actually flying. I know there are still some out there that do mileage run, but they are definitely the minority. Many of those probably do the mileage running primarily because they love being on planes and actually look at the miles as a reasonable way to justify their hobby. 🙂 The truth is that mileage running is largely impractical unless your regular travel places you just shy of an elite level. To do 50,000 miles of flying as mileage running is a lot of time in the air and money spent for miles which could be purchased at a far lower cost through credit card spending. However, if this is what you do and you earn your award miles by flying, then, YES, these changes do affect you.

Vacation Traveler

If you are a traveler that is in this miles game to earn miles and points for vacations, then you are really unaffected by these changes. Your miles mostly come from credit card bonuses and spending done through bonus categories and shopping portals. Those mile earning streams have not changed with these revenue changes – you will still earn your miles the same way you always have. Keep doing what you are doing and, for the time being, your redemption options will be unchanged. If this is you, then NO, these changes do not affect you.

Traveling Runner

Obviously, my main reason for getting into blogging was to help runners run more races in more places for less. So, I cannot help but break out the runner as a category in this to examine whether it will affect you. In most respects, your earning is somewhat similar to the Vacation Traveler above, but there are some differences.

For the traveling runner, many are running races in different cities around the country and the world. They are looking for one, or maybe two, tickets to their destination and the airline is not really that important. For the traveling runner, it is more about getting to a particular race/destination than just going someplace available with miles. Sometimes, those races are not accessible with only miles (due to popularity of the destination, etc) and must be purchased. In those cases, a card such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus is a great card to purchase the ticket and still get it for free (by redeeming the Arrival miles towards the purchase price). For the individual that does this, these changes have no impact because the cost of the ticket will not change – the only change is the miles earned with the ticket.

If you are traveling to races using miles or points, then, NO, these changes do not affect you.

Budget Traveler

Another category is the budget traveler. This is the traveler that looks for the cheapest way between two points. Sometimes, it uses miles and points and sometimes it requires the purchasing of tickets. Either way, the budget traveler is not really thinking of earning miles with the tickets they fly on. Of course, every prudent traveler should at least credit the miles flown to some participating airline, but that is not the driving force behind the choices made by the budget traveler. This person simply wants to get to a destination and does not really care which airline it is on. For this person, then, NO, these changes will not affect you.

Business Traveler

United and Delta’s pitch is that they are seeking to reward the business traveler. If you are a business traveler, then you may often be flying on the more expensive fares that these changes seek to give more award miles to. Basically, you will still be earning award miles but it will cost a lot more to do that than it does now. If you are locked into a particular airline (such as Delta or United), then you have no real choice but to continue to fly them.

If you continue flying on United, your ability to earn at least as many miles as before (or more) will be dependent on the cost of your normal ticket. If you fly a lot of short-haul trips (like between Washington DC and New York), your ticket costs are already quite high and you will now be rewarded with more miles as a result.

An example would be a non-stop ticket from Washington Dulles to Newark. This ticket costs $476. An elite member would earn a base of 1,000 miles plus any elite bonuses (25% for Silver, 50% for Gold, 75% for Platinum, and 100% for 1K/GS). So, the total amount of award miles earned on that ticket would be 2,000 miles for a United 1K member. Under the new plan, a traveler without any status would earn 2,270 miles (the $476 – the government taxes and fees ($22) x 5 = the general member amount). A United 1K member would earn a total of 4,994 miles! That is an increase of almost 3,000 miles over what is earned on the normal spend. So, if you fly a lot of short-haul trips, your mileage earning is about to go waayy up!


The amount of miles earned by a general member on a DC – NY ticket


The amount of miles earned by a 1K member on a DC – NY ticket

If you are a business traveler that flies a lot of short-haul or full-fare tickets, then, YES, these changes will affect you and for the better!

All Travelers

Even if you are not specifically affected by these earning changes, these changes do affect all of us to some degree. The reason is that changes by airlines are never really made to benefit the traveler – no matter what the airlines say. So, we all should be upset by these changes and let our displeasure be known to the airlines – not because we are going to change their minds on this but that they might be a bit cautious as they consider other changes to roll out down the line. We want to be able to continue flying with miles earned and we do not want all of those hard-earned miles to become worthless as a result of changes made to the detriment of the traveler. So, by all means, let the airlines know if you are unhappy with these changes, but remember that this change actually will not have a real-life affect on most of our travel habits.

How about you, personally? Will these changes affect you?



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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.