United Airlines Mileage Plus has implemented a number of changes over the years and most recently in particular in the way how Reward Miles and Elite Qualifying Miles are collected – it pays off to check before booking a flight!
As it turns out the number of miles collected in between Star Alliance partners of United varies greatly when crediting the flights to Mileage Plus and that can sometimes be a big advantage.
Long gone are the days where it was easy to say ‘One mile in the air is a mile in the account’ and especially tragic is the loss of the generous bonus mile system for mid tier status which used to be 100% for the old Premier Executive (50k Level).
The new Mileage Plus is a confusing mess at best when it comes to finding out how to earn and how to qualify for status, at least compared to the old days.
You can access the Mileage Plus Premier Status Qualification Requirements here.
Keep in mind that there are also different qualification requirements for U.S. residents and those customers residing overseas with U.S. residents requiring a minimum spend on United Airlines tickets which can however be waived through some credit products and corresponding spend.
The really interesting part is the rather large gap how many miles you can actually earn when it comes to different Star Alliance partners.
Here is what a United Mileage Plus member earns in terms of award miles (Redeemable Miles / RDM) when flying Thai Airways:
Strangely enough however this is NOT what the earning for Premier Status miles will be as the corresponding Premier Qualification Chart for Thai Airways (access here) shows:
According to this chart the maximum amount of miles a member can earn is 100% base miles irrespective of the class of service: Flexible Economy, Business or First Class. Extremely irritating especially for Premium Class customers.
Meanwhile members earn a 25% fare class RDM bonus for Business/First Saver Class and 50% for Flexible First Class.
There are other airlines where the mileage earning rates are more generous though, especially the United Joint Venture partners Air Canada, ANA, Austrian, Brussels, Lufthansa and SWISS.
Not only do these airlines earn a more generous base mile and cabin class rate but they are also eligible for Premier status based bonus miles between 25-100% (see the Premier chart and definition here).
Let’s take ANA for example which I just flew on the route YVR-HND-SIN in paid Business Class (P fare).
Here is the amount of redeemable award miles one will earn:
Discount Business Class in ‘P’ will earn 150% base miles which is 25% more generous than the comparable flight with Thai Airways.
Surprisingly the Premier Qualifying Miles make a huge difference:
For the purpose of status qualification the ANA flights in Discount Business Class ‘P’ earns a full 200% which is double compared to other regular (non joint venture) partners such as Thai.
That’s a huge difference especially when talking about long haul flights because these EQM add up when selecting the right airline.
Ironically enough when it comes to the Award Miles it plays an even bigger role when making the choice if one wants to fly United themselves or a partner airline and which ticket stock it will be issued on. United Airlines ticket stock pretty much means that the amount of the miles the member earns corresponds to the price of his ticket (see more on their chart here). If your ticket is cheap then even in Business Class your Award Mile earnings can be very low, only your Mileage Plus Status can boost it.
I’m currently Premier Platinum and would be eligible to earn 5 miles per USD on the base fare (as everybody else) plus another 4 miles per USD as Platinum Bonus, totaling 9 miles per USD spent. My ticket cost US$ 1,580 without the tax so as a United Ticket I’d be eligible for 14,220 Redeemable Mileage Plus Award Miles for the entire round trip ticket.
Since my ticket was ANA issued however I’ll receive the full 150% Base miles plus a 75% Bonus as Platinum Member. The total will be 35,958 Redeemable Mileage Plus Award Miles. The number of the Premier Qualifying miles will be identical.
The simple rule is that if you can secure a cheap ticket with a decent fare code (especially in Premium Class) you’re always better off in booking the partner flight on a non United Airlines ticket.
If you’re someone who drops big money on tickets this scheme can be in your favor though. The base fare with the factor 9 per US$ (or x11 as United 1K member) can add up as well. For a $5000 ticket which is a realistic ballpark for a Business Class ticket to Asia the award miles earned would have been 45,000. In my case and those of others who booked the good promotional fares from Canada at the moment it would work out in a very negative way and I suggest to stay away from United tickets if redeemable miles is what matters to you.