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United's rewards policy to favor big spenders

| Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

United Airlines is about to reward its big-spending customers at the expense of bargain-hunting travelers who rack up miles with long-distance getaways.

United will follow other airlines that have begun basing awards on money spent, not miles flown. The changes would mostly benefit people who fly at least 25,000 miles a year on United.

Starting in March, elite members of United's MileagePlus will earn between 7 and 11 miles for every dollar they spend on tickets, not counting taxes. Regular members — those who fly less than 25,000 miles and spend less than $2,500 a year — will get 5 miles per dollar toward free travel.

Since 1981, when American Airlines rolled out the industry's first big loyalty program, travelers were rewarded for the number of miles they flew regardless of how much they paid for tickets.

In the past few years, however, Virgin America, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines retooled their programs to favor passengers who spend the most. In February, Delta Air Lines announced that it would do the same starting in 2015.

American Airlines and US Airways have yet to follow suit and say they remain focused on completing a merger between the two carriers.

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