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United’s Mileage Mall Adds Offline Merchants

United’s Mileage Mall Adds Offline Merchants

Last week, among the usual glut of frequent flyer-related emails in my inbox was one from United with the following subject line: "Introducing Mileage Plus Shopping."

Of course, United already had a mileage mall—a network of online retailers, all of which award miles for purchases—as do all United’s competitors.

So what’s new about the current iteration, aside from the name? (It was the Mileage Plus Mall; now it’s Mileage Plus Shopping.)

I put that question directly to United, and they provided me with the following list of new features:

  • Members can now register a credit or debit card to earn miles at participating in-store retailers and catalogs.
  • Mileage Plus Visa credit cardholders are automatically registered.
  • More online retailers.
  • Earn miles for dining reservations via OpenTable.
  • No need for members to register to shop online anymore—they can just login to Mileage Plus Shopping using a membership number and password.

While a notable departure from the previous mileage mall, the addition of participating retailers’ brick-and-mortar locations is sparse at best: Buca di Beppo and Claim Jumper restaurants, Golfsmith, Jos. A. Bank, Mori Luggage, Orvis, Sally Beauty, and Sunglass Hut. Presumably more stores will be brought into the network in the coming months.

Earning miles for making restaurant bookings at OpenTable is nice, but doing so yields a very modest 60 miles per reservation.

The other enhancements are similarly modest in value and scope.

There is a bonus to drum up interest in the revamp: 250 bonus miles for making at purchase of at least $50 by October 31, and another 250 miles for signing up to receive shopping emails and remaining subscribed for at least 30 days.

If Delta’s miles-for-shopping email alerts are any indication, you can expect to receive at least one email per day, touting a limited-time bonus or discount from one or more of the Mileage Plus retailers. Long term, that’s more information than most consumers want to bother processing—or at least it has been for me. It’s also a lot of marketing effort being deployed behind shopping miles.

And it’s not limited to Delta and United. JetBlue’s latest program enhancement was the launch of its own ShopTrue online mall, boasting an industry-leading 800-plus participating merchants.

Perhaps that’s the big story here. Mileage malls have become a fact of travel life. Or, more accurately, they’ve become a fact of travel-rewards life, expanding as they do the opportunities for consumers to earn free trips for non-travel activities. They’re big revenue-generators for the airlines (who sell miles to the merchants), and a big mileage-generator for program members (who have significantly expanded opportunities to earn miles and rewards).

Frequent flyer programs have truly evolved into frequent buyer programs. And unlike changes to the names of the mileage malls, that’s a distinction that marks a real difference.

  • Raffy

    While 60 miles is modest for OpenTable reservations, as one who uses the reservation system daily while on business trips for lunch and dinner, I can earn upwards of 840 miles while also earning 100 OpenTable points, a nice addition to the program!

  • Susan

    Hi Tim. I am on the team that runs email marketing for Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping. SkyMiles Shopping sends 6 to 8 emails per month (8 when there are special deals worth talking about) – but if you layer those on top of the emails Delta sends that are not directly related to the SkyMiles Shopping online mall, there is a lot of email coming your way. For the shopping program (and for Delta, too), there are options to allow members to limit the frequency they get email, so if you feel you hear from us too often, please check the preference center at the bottom of the email and select which communications you want to receive. We absolutely don’t want to overwhelm you – but we do know that members forget to shop through the member mall when we don’t remind them (and therefore miss out on miles), and when we negotiate a good deal for members – we do want to let them know. Hope that is helpful!

  • Tim Winship

    Susan – Thanks for the advice. I assumed it was all or nothing, but I’ll try adjusting the settings. Best case would be an option to allow members to choose which type of notices to receive (i.e. bonus miles from specific vendors, or at least specific categories of vendors).

  • Robert E. Bennett

    I find the new website confusing and hard to navigate vs. the old Mileageplus Mall. Not impressed.

  • Ashe

    These days there’s an incentive attached to everything, that it’s come to is no surprise. The concept is really good but in reality it’s a little different. The fun comes when you try to redeem these miles, or points, it’s never as easy as it should be and the small print is near incapacitating. I just try not to get involved. I stick to services like http://www.bookatable.com where the incentive is that the service works and works well.

  • Linda

    I have been shopping through United for years with no problem but since this new site took over October 1st I have been unable to get credit for almost all of my purchases and their communications is VERY POOR. I would not advise using them.

  • Thomas

    I placed 2 orders that would have earned me substantial mileage –18 miles per dollar but after placing the 2 orders my account showed no transactions which means I would be buying something and receiving no mileage.
    I tried again by registering a credit card with them and placing the order again with no transactions showing again. I called mileageplusshopping but only received a recording that said they would get back to me the next business day. I don’t trust the system or their shpping site after my experiences.

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