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)