By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan: United Airlines has announced that is making a big change to its frequent flyer program. Beginning in March United will credit miles based on money spent, not miles flown.

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.

The changes mostly benefit people who fly at least 25,000 miles a year on United. In the last few years, 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.

The shift is part of a larger strategy by airlines to lure big spenders, especially business travelers who buy expensive, fully refundable tickets, sometimes in the first- or business-class cabin.

While basic United MileagePlus members will earn 5 miles per dollar, awards for top fliers will depend on their status level.

For each dollar, they will earn:

7 miles for Premier Silver status (25,000 miles and $2,500 in spending the previous year).

8 miles for Premier Gold status (50,000 miles and $5,000).

9 miles for Premier Platinum (75,000 and $7,500).

11 miles for Premier 1K (100,000 and $10,000).

United did not alter the miles needed to attain elite status, nor did it change the number of miles needed to earn a free flight. It tweaked redemption rates in November, raising the mileage price for many international trips in first- and business-class.

United said that passengers will earn miles for every dollar they spend on base fares other surcharges. Money spent on bag fees and other amenities and taxes will not count.

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