Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Mileage Game: Why I picked United Mileage Plus

This is a follow up to my earlier post about how to pick a mileage program, just to show how it happened in my case. I am an active member in two programs:
  • United Mileage Plus (for Star Alliance)
  • Alaska Airlines (for basically everyone else)
And here’s I picked them:
  • Hub cities: Seattle (SEA) is Alaska Air’s Hub city, which means they are going to very attractive for the number of flights and pricewise, so major points to them. United is present at SEA, but so does Delta and Southwest, so on that end it’s a draw.
  • Alliances and Who I fly with: A lot of my international flights are on Lufthansa (LH), Continental (CO), SAS (SK) or United(UA), so Star Alliance was a pretty obvious choice. Alaska (AS), Delta (DL), Northwest (NW), British Airways (BA), and American Air (AA) are all sometimes airlines for me, but BA and AA are in oneWorld while DL and NW are in SkyTeam while AS is in its own world.
  • Earning potentials: Alaska brings in all of my random players under one roof: I earn miles on my AS account when I fly AA, BA, AS, or DL. That was a win because otherwise wouldn’t be able to pool my miles and I don’t fly any of them enough to really accumulate enough miles just on their own. With the Star Alliance side, UA makes sure that I get 100% of my flown miles more of the time than the programs with LH, CO, or SK.
  • Bonuses and Redemption: Chase is hooked up with UA and Bank of America is AS’s bank. I have an aversion to Bank of America and their offer wasn’t as attractive as the 25,000 from Chase. LH didn’t have anything and while CO’s was similar to UA’s, UA still had more options to earn bonus miles through partners. In terms of redemption, I really didn’t know but it turns out that AS and UA are both pretty good about mileage inventory.
Final Verdict: UA due to partner airlines, destinations, bonus miles through partners, and redemption opportunities and AS for all of the other airlines that I usually fly just to get them in under one roof (since then they’ve also added Kenmore Air and Icelandic Air as partner airlines, so this was a big win for that role!).


  1. Debu Dasgupta4/29/11, 10:18 AM

    I fly frequently on business btween India and US. When I lived in the US, I used to be a Mileage Plus member. Since moving back to India I became a member of Lufthansa Miles and More program. I normally use that number for ALL Star Alliance flights, including the last one in Sep 2010. However, for my latest trip (in March 2011) I decided to use my Mileage Plus number. I was in for a surprise when the miles got credited. I got HALF the Base miles on UA as I got on LH when I flew the SAME flight number between the SAME cities in the same Class Z (Business Class), paying almost the SAME Money. When I wrote to UA they said they do not consider “Z class” as Business and Lufthansa’s policies were “different” than UA’s, and basically, that was tough. As an example, on flight LH 750 between Frankfurt and Calcutta, I received 9185 base miles in LH in Sep 2010, but 4599 miles on UA. Even on an atlas, it is closer to 9000 miles than 4500 . There is a ticket open (REF:12151345A) with UA to explain this where I have sent them a reply after they said inane things like “You cannot claim miles from 2 different airlines for the same flight”. Will keep you posted. But, it seems, switching to Miles and More will give members more miles for the SAME flights than UA.

  2. Hey Debu,

    The mileage that is credited to your mileage account is based on mileage flown (you can use milecalc.com for that) with a multiplier that is determined by an agreement between your mileage account airline and the airline you fly based on the fare class of your ticket. This is the case for every program, and not just a UA thing. For example, if you fly UA and put your M&M number, but you're flying with a ticket in the W, S, T, K, or L fare buckets you'll only receive 50% of the BIS miles. It's very important to know what fares you are actually flying on and what the program rules are for those fares to maximize your miles because of that.

    In the case of crediting to United for a Lufthansa flight, you ought receive 100% of the BIS (Butt in Seat) miles unless you are ticketed in U fare. In the case of FRA-CCU, the BIS for a one way flight is actually 4,600 miles, so it looks like you received the right amount according to the rules of the program. **The missing piece of information is that on Lufthansa, you receive a 100% bonus for Z fare business class with the M&M program**. For your situation, if you're collecting on M&M, then the 100% bonus is definitely what you'll want to do.

    Sorry that it didn't work out for you this time, but take it as a reminder to keep a closer eye on how your fares and programs interact. You MIGHT be able to convince them to revoke your UA miles and allow you to credit on LH, but that's a very long shot. There's no easy way to do that, except to ask very nicely. You'll have to first ask UA to revoke the miles and then request with LH for retrocredit. I've never done something like that, but it **MIGHT** work.