United Airlines making a big change to its 'premier' flier program

For frequent United Airlines fliers, the distance flown will no longer matter in how the airline calculates passengers' qualifications for "Premier" member status.

Currently, MileagePlus members can qualify for Premier status with the airline based on the amount of money they spend, either the distance or the number of flight segments. But starting next year, the status will instead be calculated based on the number of qualifying flights, which don’t include basic economy tickets and points based on the number of dollars spent.

That means travelers will have to spend more to qualify for each Premier tier. But they’ll also be rewarded for buying upgrades and seats on flights operated by Star Alliance partners, though at a lesser rate.

“The goal of these changes was to offer a more valuable program to our most loyal and valued customers,” a United spokesperson told FOX Business.

Premier status provides MileagePlus members with perks like free upgrades, priority service, additional checked baggage and pre-boarding.

United MileagePlus Chase cardholders will still be able to earn credit toward Premier status, but will no longer automatically qualify by spending $25,000 on the card in a year. Instead, they will be able to earn points toward the status by hitting certain spending thresholds.

To qualify for Premier Silver, the lowest tier, members will need at least 12 flights and 4,000 points. Travelers with just four flights under their belt can qualify with 5,000 points. Qualifying for the highest level, Premier 1K, will take 54 flights and 18,000 points, or 24,000 points with fewer flights.

The revamped system won’t change how United’s MileagePlus members earn their award miles. It also won’t change how travelers qualify for United’s Million Miler program, which will still be based on the actual distance flown.

United has also made changes to make its frequent flier program easier for members, including eliminating expiration dates for miles. It also added discounts for MileagePlus members to join Clear, the biometric airport screening service.