Earlier this week I shared my experience booking a great cross country rate on United. This morning I logged into my MileagePlus account to make a few reservation adjustments when I stumbled across my scheduled earnings for the flight. Full disclosure, I’m not a frequent United flyer. My experience with MileagePlus is generally limited to transferring Chase points over to my account for award redemptions. I knew that earning MileagePlus miles turned revenue based a few years back, but I didn’t know all the details. United provided a good laugh when my accounted indicated that my cross country flight earns 120 miles!
United Award Mileage Earnings
If you’re unfamiliar with United’s mileage award earnings, here’s the chart straight from their website:
As I mentioned above, we booked a ridiculously cheap one way flight. We’re on a nonstop from Phoenix to Washington DC for $40/each. Mileage is only earned on United’s cut of the ticket price, not the taxes and fees. In this case United’s cut must have been ~ $24 ($24 x 5 = 120 miles earned!).
Credit Cards, Not Flights
By no means is United alone in issuing revenue based award miles. Delta, American, and Southwest all reward their flyers in the same manner. If I were a novice looking to break into the points and miles game, presumably I’d look at flying strategies that were rewarding. Think again. Unless you’re forced to travel for business, earning butt in seat miles is a sad state of affairs.
Credit cards have completely eclipsed flying as the best way to earn miles for leisure travelers. I can use my Chase Sapphire Reserve for takeout pizza and earn more miles than I’ll receive flying cross country. Miles are still be incredibly useful, it’s just how we earn them that’s increasingly changing. Actually flying to earn them is almost becoming a afterthought.
Crediting Miles Elsewhere
Alas, earning miles based on the distance flown isn’t completely dead. You’ll just need to look to credit your miles elsewhere. Gary over at View From The Wing has a nice write up about crediting your United miles with other airlines. Often partner airlines will recognize distance flown instead of revenue paid. Of course most partners are international airlines, so you’ll want to do your research ahead of time. For example, if you think Asia might be in your future, crediting your United miles to Singapore Airlines Krisflyer is a great option. I can earn almost 20x more miles than I would with United for this flight!
This example of poor mileage earning is evidence of how the points and miles hobby is constantly evolving. I haven’t decided what direction I’m going to go with our upcoming flights, but I’m going to make sure I earn a lot more than 120 miles!