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United Frequent Flier Change Could Cost You

United Continental Holdings(CHICAGO) -- United Airlines has made a significant change to its frequent-flier program, MileagePlus.

The change requires, in addition to miles flown, a minimum amount of money spent in order to earn status in the MileagePlus program.

The program previously required a minimum of 25,000 miles flown in one year to qualify for its lowest-level status, Premier Silver. Now the program will also require a minimum spend of $2,500 in addition to the 25,000 miles.

Higher levels of status require a higher minimum spend: Premier Gold, 50,000 and $5,000; Premier Platinum, 75,000 and $7,500; and Premier 1K, 100,000 and $10,000.

The change will take place next year for status on flights in 2015.

"For three decades, airline loyalty programs have largely recognized members and offered elite benefits for the distance those members fly," airline spokeswoman Karen May said in a statement to ABC News. "This is a logical step toward acknowledging members also for the revenue they provide the company, an approach that is common among loyalty programs in many industries."

So who wins and loses with the new requirement?

George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog.com, said fliers who already purchase expensive tickets -- first-class or fully refundable -- will win as those who fly on cheap fares are squeezed out of earning status. Fewer people qualifying means less competition for upgrades and other perks.

People who fly on cheap fares, Hobica said, will be negatively affected. It's the people who "in the past have 'gamed' the system by finding extremely cheap fares in order to rack up miles and gain status."

Taxes, often a significant portion of the cost of a flight, do not count toward the minimum spend. Baggage and other fees are also not counted toward the minimum dollar amount.

The move mimics one made by Delta Airlines in January. At the time, Jeff Robertson, vice president/SkyMiles, said in a statement, "These changes are a result of considerable research that we've conducted including conversations with hundreds of customers, many of whom expressed a desire to see the Medallion program truly target our best customers."

"Adding a revenue component to the SkyMiles Medallion program ensures that our most valued customers receive the best program benefits and a more exclusive experience," the statement continued.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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