You're about to have to work a lot harder if you want to obtain top-tier elite status with United Airlines. The carrier just toughened the criteria for getting to the top of its popular Mileage Plus program. Just how far up is United moving the goal post? Mileage Plus members will be required to spend $15,000 qualifying dollars annually if they want Premier 1K status, with effect from January 1, 2019. That's quite a jump from the $12,000 those members have been required to spend up until now. In fact, it represents a spending jump of 25 percent. United is simultaneously decreasing the point bonuses that are awarded for many of its premium fares.

What's prompting United to make it more difficult to rise to the top of its beloved loyalty program? United is essentially just joining its competitors. Frequent travelers may already know that Delta Air Lines demands a comparable spending threshold for elite members of its loyalty program. However, not all airlines have increased spending requirements. American Airlines still sets its spending threshold at $12,000 annually for members with Executive Platinum status.

United and other carriers justify higher spending thresholds by saying that they allow airlines to treat their top-tier customers better. The golden rule of the airline world is that travelers who spend the most get treated the best. Airlines use high spending thresholds to make their top-tier statuses even more elite.

The reality is travelers who spend big on flights won't be impacted by the increase because they easily top the threshold each year. However, travelers who aren't quite at the top when it comes to spending will no longer be able to claim the same perks as ultra-high spenders. High-end spenders will suddenly view United's loyalty program as a more desirable choice than the one that's offered by American due purely to increased exclusivity.

Scott Dylan is a contributing writer at GET.com and has been to (almost) every country in North, Central and South America with nothing more than a backpack, a laptop and the desire to explore. He speaks Spanish fluently and has logged enough time in planes, trains, rideshares, buses, taxis and rickshaws to know how to rack up rewards and points to get anywhere his heart desires for pennies on the dollar. Email: scott.dylan@get.com.