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United Airlines Adds Spending Requirement for Elite Status

Tuesday, 18 Jun 2013 | 3:07 PM ET
Darren Booth | CNBC

It will soon take more than merely flying a lot to achieve elite frequent flier status with United Airlines. Think total dollars spent.

United announced Tuesday that beginning in 2014, members of the airline's MileagePlus program will be required to achieve an annual spending requirement, in addition to miles or segments flown, to enjoy the perks of Premier elite status.

(Read More: How Flying, Just for the Miles, Can Pay Off)

Delta announced a similar requisite for its SkyMiles members earlier this year, also set to begin in 2014. The moves follow an industry trend that rewards loyalty based on revenue contribution to a given airline, in addition to frequency of travel.

Frequent Flier Miles in the Crosshairs
There are big changes coming to many frequent flier programs, reports CNBC's Phil LeBeau.

United's Elite Status Changes

Starting in January 2014, elite status for MileagePlus members residing in the U.S. will include a new Premier Qualifying Dollar (PQD) requirement, as follows:

  • Premier Silver: 25,000 miles or 30 segments flown annually, and $2,500 PQDs
  • Premier Gold: 50,000 miles or 60 segments flown annually, and $5,000 PQDs
  • Premier Platinum: 75,000 miles or 90 segments flown annually, and $7,500 PQDs
  • Premier 1K: 100,000 miles or 120 segments flown annually, and $10,000 PQDs

PQDs are dollars spent on most United tickets, including partner airline flights, and Economy Plus purchases.

Additionally, a minimum of four paid flights operated by United, United Express, or Copa Airlines will be needed to qualify for any Premier status.

(Read More: OMG! Elite United Passengers Board With the Masses)

For 2014, the PQD requirement for Premier Silver, Premier Gold and Premier Platinum qualification will be waived for members who spend at least $25,000 in net purchases using a MileagePlus Chase co-branded credit card issued in the U.S.

Loyalty Trends

Henry Harteveldt, an airline and travel industry analyst for Hudson Crossing, thinks the new requirement is a smart move. "It will help ensure valuable benefits go to MileagePlus members who both fly a lot, and help United earn a profit," he said.

United's action leaves American and US Airways (soon to be merged) as the only large U.S. airlines without a spending requisite for future elite status. But that could change sooner rather than later.

"I won't be surprised if American decides to match, even with the merger," Harteveldt said. "This gives American the justification it needs to cull the 'new' [merged] elite ranks as it looks towards a program with more than 100 million members."

(Read More: What Travelers Can Expect with American-US Airways Merger)

Other airline loyalty programs, including those at Southwest and Virgin America, currently reward their members based on dollars spent, not necessarily miles flown.

For more information on United's changes, click here.

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