I got an email from United yesterday telling me that this year’s new revenue-based mileage earning program is great because on a recent expensive short flight I earned an extra 456 miles.
This was the pitch:
You spend more with us, so we want to reward you more
Because you are earning miles based on the fare you pay¹ instead of the distance you travel², your award miles can add up quickly. On your flight to […] on […], 2015, you earned 456 more award miles than you would have if you had taken this flight under our old program. All MileagePlus® members now earn 5 award miles per dollar spent for flights on United® and United Express®.
It doesn’t matter whether United has a corporate contract, or the only non-stop flight on an obscure route, or was the only airline available. They aren’t going to reward an incremental decision to actually fly United over a competitor. They are just going to tally the amount you spend with United (even if you would have spent that money anyway) and dole out a rebate on that basis.
But that doesn’t mean you earn more miles and it doesn’t mean the average customer earns more miles. It does mean that expensive short flights earn more miles than before.
United has a revenue-based system for elite qualification: you have to spend a minimum of 12.5 cents per mile when flying 25,000, 50,000, 75,000 or 100,000 miles to qualify for elite status. But to break even with mileage earning you need to spend around 20 cents per mile.
At current average fares a member would earn 20% fewer miles than they would under the old system. And fares are falling.
This email, though, tells me that United thinks its customers don’t believe the new model is a good one and they need to do some selling — by emailing those that are coming out ahead about specific flights where that happened. They should probably do that, though a few hundred miles isn’t going to excite me and of course I know how far behind I came out when they devalued the miles that I’m earning.