Will You Dump United?

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This morning I shared the bad news that United is going to a revenue based mileage earning model just like (and I mean just like) Delta is doing beginning in 2015.  After I slept off my Alaska jet lag and got back online, I noticed many thinking about or proclaiming that they are dumping United as their carrier of choice beginning March 1, 2015 when this all kicks in.  Since I am a top tier United 1K flyer, lots of folks are asking me if I am dumping them as well.  Here are my thoughts on whether dumping the airline that just dumped mileage earning makes sense for me.

  • I already book most of my purchased flights based on convenience (taking the nonstop flight) and that won’t change.  I’m already not choosing United over the others because I like their flights or miles better, I am often picking them because I live in a hub with tons of United operated flights and want the shortest distance between two points to minimize travel time.  I will pay extra for this (to a point) and am not going to “punish” myself or my family by adding connections because I am earning fewer miles.
  • I already don’t earn most of my miles from flying.  Don’t get me wrong, as a 1K I earn a bunch of miles flying, but I still earn more via credit cards, online shopping, Ultimate Rewards, etc.  I still very much don’t like these changes, but as a percentage of my overall earnings, the losses I take via the new model won’t be life altering.  Sadly being at a United hub in the middle of the country, many of my flights were already short and on the expensive side, so I’m not always going to come out behind with the new system…though I frequently will.
  • The elite perks I like are still unchanged.  In addition to taking United flights because they are most convenient, I stick with them with all else being equal because I value elite perks like free same day changes, E+ seats, no award booking/redeposit fees, and the occasional upgrade.  Heck, even my low level Silver status husband cleared his Anchorage – Houston upgrade last night, and that meant we were all in first on a 6+ hour flight via complimentary upgrades.  That’s nice when it works out, and it’s something that does have some value for us.
  • I may use miles more and purchase fewer tickets.  On longer flights like the one I just took to Alaska, or an upcoming one to Hawaii, I like to earn miles for myself instead of using miles, both to help my elite qualifying mileage total and because I get a nice hefty pile of redeemable miles.  These changes may mean I care much more about using miles than earning them…though of course I will be earning  many of the miles I use on credit cards, not by flying on United flights.
  • Consider crediting United flights to partners that still credit based on the distance flown.  This is a little trickier than it sounds since not all fare classes credit at 100% rate with all partners, but it is something worth considering.  I’m working on a more detailed post on this topic for tomorrow morning.

So no, I’m not dumping United because overall the airline still makes sense for my particular family.  I won’t hit 1K again this year, but should still hit Platinum status.  I don’t know what the future will hold beyond that, but I just don’t have a better option to realistically switch to at this point given our location and travel patterns.

However, United is trying really hard to kill loyalty, and you should only be loyal to your wallet because they are only chasing your money.  They don’t really care how many miles you fly on their aircraft, the number of flights you take on them, how long you have been a United/Continental flyer, or even what class of service you book.  They care how much money you spend on your ticket.  They reward you with more miles if you spend a bunch.  They aren’t giving you much of anything beyond a ride from Point A to Point B if you book inexpensive tickets.

That means most of us should only book United when they are cheapest option available, or if you are very schedule sensitive like I am, then consider them when the price might be slightly more, but they are the clear winner in terms of scheduling for your route.  Don’t give them business just because “you always fly United” or certainly not because you are going to earn some valuable miles to use towards a future vacation.  There are better ways to earn miles.

I very much hope that the new American Airlines will be different than the rest of these copycats who are essentially doing away with earning miles.  These aren’t miles anymore – they are simply some sort of % rebate on travel purchased based on the price of your ticket.  Of course to even use the “% rebate” you have to find availability on the flights you want.  I hope American caters to frequent flyers and maintains a mileage based system.  I’m not dumping United, but we’re certainly not hot and heavy anymore.  We are a bit ambivalent toward each other and use each other only as it benefits ourselves.  We see other people.  We have a relationship solidly built on sand over a fault line.  Let’s hope the ground doesn’t shake further.

How do today’s announcements impact your relationship with United?


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  1. Mommy Points is in my world, near a United hub, and still enjoying 1K status and pretty good in flight experience, same day change feature, and no fees for cancelling reward tickets.

  2. Expected this type of devaluation in the face of lessened competition. We’re mainly AA over here in Miami and just waiting for that shoe, I mean flipflop, to drop.

  3. Is WN out of HOU an option supplementing UA for long haul trips and international trips? Something like WN A list Preferred for domestic sectors + UA Gold for international sectors and unique destinations as well as auxiliary points earning progams such as dining, shopping, CC ,etc.

    I have done the math, if you are an A+ List top tier (50 one ways), biz select fares will effectively yield 37% back. Then there is the companion tier (very easy to attain) where a +1 (little C or your husband) gets to fly for free with you anywhere WN flies. So, coupled with 37% back and airfare savings you will enjoy from the companion program, it could be beneficial for you? No?


  4. For me, I will be dropping United as my airline of choice which they have been. I would always start with their website and what works best for me to reach 1K. That approach will now change to what is going to be the best option available to me for time, schedule, and product which may be UA or anyone else. If my travel for work and fun is the same this year as next, UA may lose out on most of my revenue. Assuming I only give UA 40% of my dollars, that is a $6,000 loss from me that now goes to other airlines.

  5. ‘Loyalty’ with respect to a corporation always amazes and amuses me. United’s job is to maximize return to its shareholders. It owes no ‘loyalty’ to its customers unless that ‘loyalty’ also generates profits. Hearing the wailing and gnashing of teeth of folks who pride themselves on taking magnificent trips (increasing cost) for little money (decreasing profit) makes me wonder if those folks understand what the duties of loyalty are. As long as they can keep their capacity factor up, UA should be ecstatic over every mileage runner that switches to AA. OTOH, as long as there are inefficiencies in the system, there’ll be gamers who’ll play it. They just won’t be flying as much.

    • JEM to a degree sure, but I’m not a mileage runner and this impacts me as well. I earn at a rate over their 10 cents PQM line and this still hurts my earning.

  6. Yeah – everyone said they were dumping Delta when this happened also. Hard to know.

    You won’t be a 1K this year? No BOS-ICN trips? Just need a couple of those (and a lot of other spend) . . .

    • Joseph, nah. Too pricey and time consuming for me. I do have a couple Detroit trips from that snafu but 90% are real trips w no time/money to add beyond that.

  7. @Jem, United may lose customers, and mileage runners are filling seats. Losing them will not help United. If they didn’t need to fill the seat at that price, then their revenue management system is out of whack. I don’t quite understand why some people think losing mileage runners is a benefit. It’s not. Losing any customer is not good for the airline. United’s problem is they lost the business customers to delta.

    Any empty seat and a quarterly loss is all United will get. I’d rather fly WN or Alaska, or Delta if I wasn’t “loyal” to United’ loyalty program.

  8. With ORD as our home base we use United based on what works best for us. Since my husband has platinum status and I have gold we try to fly UA. Interestingly enough, this new system would probably work to our advantate more often than not since we book based on our schedules more so than the cost of the flight. For instance, my husband has a flight to MEM this next week which cost $800.00 but the miles earned would be 1,000.

  9. I plan on dropping from being a 7 year 1K to a silver next year. I’m within striking distance of million mile status, but I’ll get there when I get there. I will probably start playing the credit card game more, and start flying the Frontiers and Southwests more.

  10. I have mostly dumped United, with the exception of an award + partner flight that I book last year that will happen later this year.

    And I mean dumped in the very traditional sense — I don’t fly with them anymore (their service is not spectacular…), the hard product is not better, and they’re just killing their FF loyalty with devaluation.

    Honestly, I don’t even bother to accrue (or plan to transfer) any of my point asset to United.

  11. Two years ago I chose Aegean for my Star Alliance flight crediting and couldn’t be happier. I very rarely fly United, and then US Airways (I’m and Alaska MVP), so it just made sense at the time to “go for it” with Aegean. Sure the United counter reps turn their nose up at me, sure the lounge dragons give me the evil eye, but I am still allowed free baggage with them and still have lounge access (thanks Star Alliance). Flyertalk has a great wiki about Aegean and how to get status and consider just using United for award travel from the points accrued from other credit cards.

  12. I have no intention of dropping UA over this. I wish they hadn’t done it, but I don’t think it’ll be the end of world. I earn the majority of my miles through non-flying means, so this will have no impact on how many UA miles I earn. Now, if they went to revenue based REDEMPTION, I’d drop them in a heartbeat.

  13. Well this shows you again that you need to be loyal to yourself–can’t trust that airline loyalty programs will stay the same or honor their promises (e.g. MM). I did switch from UA to AA and so far I have been happy but you never can tell what will happen in the future. You need to be nimble, not loyal as this again shows us.

  14. Nick hit the nail on the head, optimal strategy now is to go with price/convenience and use credit cards for benefits. Both DL & UA offer silver through CC/MS via Amex for DL and Chase Ritz-Carlton for UA (thru Marriott Plat).

  15. I won’t go for 1K anymore. I often purchase discount business class P fares. I would credit to Aegean but they give 0 miles for discount business class. Not sure who I should credit my united discount business class tickets too. Any suggestions???

  16. Not much change for us….we have a stash of united miles from living in Houston and being Continental loyal. Now we pretty much do as golfing boy suggested -WN for short flights, then a mixture for long international flights. Quite a bit of United as we fly TPAC at least once a year….curious to see what the new AA might bring for us though!

  17. I mostly abandoned United (except when I don’t have any other choice) about 2 years ago. This only makes me more content with that decision. As an SFO-based flyer, my Silver status was basically worthless – no chance of upgrades or even E+ most times with so many 1Ks to compete with. And there are so many airlines to choose from in the SF Bay Area. Southwest and Virgin America are so much more pleasant for families, serve many of the places I need to go, and are usually equal in price.

  18. I live near (50 miles) from Houston, use to fly Continental until they merged with United. Now use AA and USAIR. For my next trip I will fly AA out of CLL to ORD and the ticket was $130.00 cheaper than AA out of IAH.

  19. I’m here in Houston with you so the hub situation makes it difficult to abandon them entirely. I still mostly fly on Southwest when I can. However, I have some short work flights to other Texas cities where I am only currently earning the minimum points (250 per segment) thanks to Silver status, prior to that I was earning 150-200 points per segment, some of these flights were costing $700-1,200. So in that aspect I will earn a LOT more points. However, on the redeeming end I’m a little worried as to just how many more points it is going to take. 🙂

  20. I live a short hop from a delta hub and fly mostly long-haul to Africa, S America and SE Asia at about 60k/yr. I’ve been UA gold for several years but mostly fly *a partners, bypassing the more frequent delta connections for a few UA options out of my home airport. This year, due to a change in travel habits at work and using several awards, I likely won’t even hit silver. I’m thinking of crediting *a to A3 and getting a delta Amex. In 2015 I will be Starting from scratch but returning to similar flying habits. I may look for more credit card conveniences and just go with the cheapest for my long haul economy flights-appreciate other suggestions though.

  21. The first intelligent post I’ve seen on the subject from someone who actually earns 1K and lives in a UA hub. I suspect most high level elites share your views and won’t be dumping UA … yet. But they do need to up their game with the actual product.

  22. Yes and no. I was a CO premier platinum and then a UA 1K the past 6 years and will most likely “dump” United. I will still fly UA if it’s the cheapest fare possible but I really need to look at my points/miles strategy again before making a decision.

    I thought UA would sit back and see whether DL’s move to revenue-based mileage earning in 2015 would prove profitable. If it were successful, it would then make sense for UA Mileageplus management to mimic Delta. In this case, however, UA just followed Delta without even knowing whether this will prove to be successful! What a mess!

  23. I’m not dumping them, but I’m moving them (mentally) into a place behind American and Delta. I will no longer be able to “trust” them and so I have to sort of let them go…but I will still burn miles on them from time to time.

  24. Since I achieved Million Miler status a few years ago, I’ve redeemed miles for most of my Star Alliance flights. I second Arty’s response – am delighted that, with MM status, I don’t need to worry about re-qualifying for Gold. I will not be dropping United. (I find I can often get good value out of my UA miles; my AA miles are much harder to redeem for decent value. And I have no status with AA. So I’m not switching.)

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