united-mileage-plus-big2One of America’s most cherished consumer benefits is about to go through a radical change—and its driving its customers to cook up new strategies to get the most for their hard-spent money.

Two of the country’s biggest airlines are changing their frequent flier reward program earning capability to dollars spent rather than miles flown (Delta’s change will take effect Jan. 1 and United on March 1).

For example, a business traveler who regularly racks up at least 30,000 miles on United per flight to Asia will see that number plummet to 12,000 miles once the programs change. But, he can outsmart United and take his business to its partner Singapore Airlines to retain the larger amount of miles, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Alaska Airlines is an attractive option for Delta customers on certain routes. It’s still offering rewards based on miles flown on Delta, but keep in mind flights need to be booked through Alaska and not through Delta. Virgin Atlantic pays 100 percent of miles flown on economy fares, and is also a good option for Delta customers.

Maybe this workaround won’t last for long, though. Delta and United have posted notices on their websites stating that changes may be coming, and both airlines are in negotiations with their partners on what mileage earnings will be. Partner airlines declined to discuss future changes.

The new rewards programs will solely benefit people who fly on the most expensive business and first class fares and have top-tier status. A spokesperson for American Airlines told the Wall Street Journal that the airline doesn’t plan to convert to a fare-based program…yet.


2 Steps to Make Frequent Flier Miles Work Better For You

  1. Airline Choice

These days, only frequent business travelers are benefitted by staying loyal to just one airline rewards program. For those who fly less, immediate travel goals should be the driving force in choosing who you fly with. Whether you’re aiming for a free trip to Europe, Hawaii, or just trying to get home for the holidays for a decent fare (ha!), pick the airline that best suits your needs.

Here are the best airlines for redeeming miles in economy to the region you want to fly, according to Daily Finance.

Mainland U.S. flights: Southwest Airlines (20, 969 miles)

Hawaii: Delta (65,643 miles)

Europe: American (77,049 miles)

Mexico: JetBlue (32,679)

Asia: United (104,470)

South America: Delta (87,275)

Australia: American (75,000)

  1. Credit Card Choice

Choose the credit card that will help you earn the miles the quickest with your airline of choice. The biggest differences are: bonus offers (and how much spend is required to earn them), category bonuses (choose one that gives more points for travel), and free checked bags (at $25 a pop, that saves you $200 in one trip for a family of four).

Overall, American Express is the best card to use for earning the most points through travel. If the merchant doesn’t accept American Express, Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card is the best to use for United miles and the Sapphire Preferred Card is the best to use for redeeming points for travel.