United Airlines revamps frequent flyer program to reward big spenders

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In an effort to cater to their most loyal customers and adapt to changing travel patterns, United Airlines is set to revamp its frequent flyer program in 2024, making it easier for customers to earn elite status through co-branded Chase credit cards. This move follows a broader industry trend of airlines adjusting their loyalty programs to accommodate the evolving needs of travelers.

Unlike many airlines that have frequently adjusted their frequent flyer requirements since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, United Airlines has decided to maintain the overall requirements for elite frequent flyer status for the upcoming year. This stability will be a welcome relief for loyal United customers who have experienced a great deal of uncertainty in recent times.

The significant change comes into effect in 2024 when United plans to reward its customers with 25 qualifying points for every $500 they spend on their co-branded credit cards. Currently, customers receive 500 points for every $12,000 spent. Additionally, the airline will eliminate the caps on credit card spending that can count towards elite status, making it even more accessible for frequent flyers to achieve and maintain their elite status.

To attain silver status, the lowest tier of elite status, travelers currently need 5,000 qualifying points and four flights or a combination of flights and points. This alteration aims to simplify the process and incentivize big spenders to choose United co-branded credit cards as their preferred method of payment.

Airlines around the world reward their elite frequent flyers with a range of exclusive perks, including free upgrades (when available), priority boarding, airport lounge access, and other benefits. These privileges are designed to enhance the travel experience for loyal customers and provide an added incentive to remain brand loyal.

In recent years, the ranks of elite frequent flyers have swelled as travelers continued to spend during the COVID-19 pandemic, and airlines extended elite status to those who weren’t flying. This surge in elite members posed a unique challenge for airlines. They needed to balance maintaining the exclusivity of their loyalty programs while ensuring they remain attainable for their most valuable customers.

Delta Air Lines made a bold move in September by announcing that elite status would be awarded solely based on spending, eliminating the need for a combination of flights and spending. However, last month, Delta walked back some of its planned changes, including restrictions on lounge access, in response to customer feedback.

United Airlines’ decision to revamp its frequent flyer program to reward big spenders signifies a commitment to providing a more straightforward and attainable path to elite status, while still ensuring that their most loyal customers are adequately rewarded for their dedication to the airline. As travelers look forward to the changes in 2024, the airline industry continues to evolve, adapting to the ever-changing needs and expectations of its passengers.

(Source: Alison Fox | Travel + Leisure | Leslie Josephs | CNBC)

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