Earning United Miles On Consolidator Fares

Yesterday United announced that they would further switch to a revenue based program. Starting March 1, 2015, United will begin awarding redeemable miles based on ticket cost as opposed to miles flown.

For the vast majority of people this is a negative change. For non-elite members the “breakeven” point on miles here is 20 cents per mile. In other words, on a 5,000 mile roundtrip itinerary you would previously have earned 5,000 miles, and under the new system you’d have to spend $1,000 on that ticket in order to earn the same 5,000 miles.

It definitely does benefit some people, though. You may come out ahead if:

  • You primarily pay for first and business class
  • You mostly fly short distances, where airfare is disproportionately expensive
  • You fly between smaller markets or are a “hub captive,” where airfare is sometimes higher

One challenge with a system based on revenue is just how complex it is. For example, if you book a ticket on United ticket stock (even on partner airlines) you’ll earn miles based on revenue, while if you book a ticket on non-United ticket stock for travel on partner airlines, you’ll still earn miles based on miles flown.

But here’s something really interesting — for consolidator tickets, United will continue to offer miles based on distance flown, albeit at a reduced rate. Per a notice sent out to travel agents:

Specialty tickets that earn award miles in the current program (including, but not limited to consolidator/bulk, group, tour and other tickets where the fare paid is not disclosed on the ticket) will earn award miles based on a percentage of the distance flown and the purchased fare class as of March 1, 2015. Please refer to the chart below for details.


So in other words, even the most discounted ticket from a consolidator would earn you 50% of flown miles. Admittedly that cuts earnings rates in half compared to what they used ot be, but if your ticket cost is less than 10 cents per mile, you’d actually come out ahead booking a “specialty ticket.”

Now it’s tough to actually take advantage of this since you can’t easily book “specialty tickets” on their own, though there’s something funny to me about it potentially being more rewarding to book through a consolidator than directly with United.

(Tip of the hat to Eric)

Filed Under: United
  1. Lucky- Last time I booked via Ultimate Rewards points United showed it as “bulk”. Would this fall under this group?

  2. This is a terrible move by United and takes the enjoyment out of searching for and purchasing the best fare. I hope they change the name of the program from mileage plus to money plus…. since it no longer has anything to do with miles. They will lose plenty of dedicated customers.

  3. Anything that is labelled as BULK will fall under the consolidator bucket. Priceline opaque fares, some Amex fares etc. The price you pay does not equal what United gets, and they have agreements not to divulge the actual amount United received.

  4. In the past I’ve shyed away from the consolidator tickets as I got burned once taking the family on a cross country on a cheap fare only to find out it earned zero miles based on the fare code (I think it was on AA several years ago). Sounds like this could be a profit making opportunity for a consolidator then if they want to go that angle, and if they’re able to advertise that buying the ticket will earn x percentage miles based on the class of ticket.

  5. Trade-off: Bulk tickets are not upgradable using instruments. Also, they are not eligible for PQD.

  6. Hi Lucky, if you book a ticket on non-United ticket stock for travel on United, is it gonna be revenue based or distance based? Thank you!

  7. It is frustrating when your company books a consolidator fare in business class to Asia and they spent $5-6 K yet United tracks it as 0 for PQD. Consolidator fares are not necessarily cheap so should qualify for some PQD in my opinion

  8. If I purchase a ticket on Luftansa for United travel, is this a 016 ticket number or does it depend?

  9. @ John — If it’s purchased through Lufthansa then it wouldn’t be United ticket stock.

  10. 2 questions:

    I fly UA but accrue miles to TK. Will I get 100% or some fraction of that as if I were flying UA?

    How do you book UA flights via Lufthansa? For example, I have a flight coming up from EWR to MFE. I’d love to book it via a *A partner and get the non-UA ticket but I don’t know how.

  11. I just finished up a feb 15 to dec 15 round trip ticket from a consolidator on ua hardware. got 50% of my miles flown based on my fare class plus the 25% bonus for being silver. got 100% premier qualifying miles. so overall more than double ff miles over what united would have given me based on the cheap price of the ticket and the same premier qualifying miles and also lifetime flight miles.

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