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Frontier, United Double the Frequent Flyer Miles to Colorado

Headed to Colorado? Be sure to put double frequent flyer miles on your itinerary. But not just any double miles ...

Denver-based Frontier launched the double-mile battle, offering members of its EarlyReturns program the extra miles for round-trip flights to Aspen, Colorado Springs, Denver, Durango, and Grand Junction, booked by June 30 and completed by September 30. Note the word "to" in the description of eligible flights—unlike most such offers, which apply to travel either way, this one is directional. And the bonus may only be earned one time per member.

United—which operates a hub at Denver—could not afford to be one-upped by a competitor, and responded with an offer that is in most respects identical to Frontier's, except where it's better. In particular, United's promotion is not limited to travel to Colorado—it also applies to flights from the five Colorado airports. And rather than restricting members to earning the bonus once, United allows members of its program to earn the double miles up to three times.

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Frontier opened a can of worms it probably now wishes it had left alone.

Compared head-to-head, United's promotion is less restrictive, and thus more generous. But even if the offers were identical, United's would be more compelling. Because a frequent flyer mile earned in the program of United has more value than a mile earned in Frontier's program.

With its vastly superior route network and fully developed mileage program, United offers its Mileage Plus members significantly more opportunities to earn and redeem miles.

And that's without factoring Frontier's bankruptcy into the equation. While the company's recent performance suggests it will survive and eventually exit bankruptcy, it's unclear whether Frontier's future is as a healthy, customer-focused enterprise, or as a marginal operator, obsessed with cutting costs at the expense of delivering top-notch service.

To use the currency analogy, where a United frequent flyer mile is like a U.S. dollar, a Frontier mile is more like a developing nation's dollar.

A fact of frequent flyer math: All bonuses are not created equal. In this case, a bonus mile in United's program is worth more than a bonus mile in Frontier's.

Earn a bonus for Colorado flights? What I should have said was: Earn the United bonus for Colorado flights.

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