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Airlines around the world have different ways and methods through which they determine the miles earned for a flight. While many airlines share the same calculation method, more and more airlines are switching to other ways in how they calculate how many miles and points you’ll get for a flight.

Remember that the amount of miles you’ll receive is based on the frequent flyer program you’re crediting your flight to – not necessarily the airline flown. For example, if you fly with Lufthansa and credit your miles to United, United determines how many miles or points you’d receive.

It’s also very important to know that there can be a difference as to how many redeemable miles you earn on a flight and how many elite qualifying miles or points you earn – some airlines award the same for both categories, while other airlines can have very different methods for determining redeemable vs. elite qualifying miles.

Miles Earned Based on Distance Flown and Booking Class

The most common method of awarding flyers both redeemable and elite-qualifying miles is based on distance flown and booking class of your ticket. When you buy a ticket, you’ll usually have many different fare type options and the more expensive your ticket is, the higher your booking class will be and the more miles you’ll receive, and the more flexible your ticket will be.

Many programs continue to use this method for awarding miles to flyers – as this is the standard way and many argue, the best way. The way it works is simple:

  • you take your distance flown and multiply it by how many miles in % of flight distance are awarded

For example an airline could have fare types as follows:

  • Basic (Non-Refundable/Non-Changeable)
    • earns 25% of miles flown
  • Regular (Non-Refundable/Changeable for a Fee)
    • earns 50% of miles flown
  • Flex (Refundable for a Fee/Free Changes)
    • earns 100% of miles flown
  • Fully Refundable Fare
    • earns 150% of miles flown

If your flight length was 2,500 miles and you purchase a Flex fare that earns 100% of the miles flown, you’d receive 2,500 miles (plus any potential elite bonuses). If you purchase a Basic fare on the same flight, you’d earn 625 miles (25% of the distance flown).

Many airlines continue to use this method as this has always been the standard.

Miles Earned Based on Booking Class Only

There are a few airlines that credit you a certain amount of miles or status points based on booking class alone. This method is much less common, but includes programs like Virgin Atlantic Flying Club – where you get a fixed amount of Tier Points (elite qualifying) just based on your booking class and not based on anything else.

Miles Earned Based on Booking Class and Zones/Regions

There are a few frequent flyer programs that award you miles or points based on your booking class and the zones you fly through. For example, British Airways will credit you Tier Points (elite qualifying) based on your booking class and what your mileage-flown zone is. So, for example, a flight from London to Paris could earn the same amount of Tier Points as a flight from New York to Miami (on their partner airline), even though the distances flown are different.

Some European airlines award you elite qualifying miles for flights within Europe based on booking class alone at a fixed rate – since many flights within Europe are super short so the distance you fly doesn’t matter.

Mileage Earning Based on Revenue (Ticket Price)

In the airline industry, switching to a revenue-based model for awarding miles is the hottest trend. Many airlines are switching to awarding you miles based on how much you spend on a flight ticket instead of how much you actually fly. The whole purpose of a frequent flyer program is to award you miles for flying and not spending, so this doesn’t make sense but airlines are doing everything they can to earn more revenue while giving less to flyers.

When you earn miles based on how much you pay for a ticket, this is usually for redeemable miles only – though some airlines have pushed this method for elite-qualifying miles or points as well. An airline ticket is composed of:

  • base fare
  • carrier-imposed surcharges
  • government and airport taxes and fees

With the revenue-based method, you’d earn miles based your:

  • (base fare + carrier-imposed surcharges) * a certain multiplier depending on your elite status

For example, if your ticket price was as follows…

  • base fare: $100
  • carrier-imposed surcharges: $50
  • government and airport taxes and fees: $25

… and say you’re a Gold member that earns 7 miles per $1 spent on flights, you’d earn…

  • ($100 base fare + $50 surcharges) * 7 for being a Gold member = 1,050 total miles earned

To give you an example why revenue-based is bad, the same ticket above which costs $175 could easily be a round trip ticket from the West Coast to the East Coast and round-trip, that would be around 5,000 miles flown. Under the distance-flown system, you’d potentially earn 5,000 miles and under the revenue-based system you’re only earning 1,050 miles.

All in All

The most common methods used to determine how many miles you’ll earn on a given flight are listed above – the most used method is distance flown and booking class, however many airlines are now switching to a revenue-based model and awarding miles based on how much you spend on a given ticket. Remember that the program you’re crediting miles to determines how they will award you miles and not the airline you’re flying – so even if the program of the airline you’re flying, for example, awards miles based on ticket spend, you still could earn miles through a different method if crediting to another program.

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