When I’m purchasing a revenue ticket I always aim to maximize it based on the fare rules just so I can earn extra miles for no additional cost. For example, if you are flying from San Francisco to New York, the fare could allow you to fly nonstop or it could allow you to route via Miami, for example, which means the price should be the same but you could potentially earn more miles since you’d be flying more – however, this only applies when crediting miles based on the distance flown.
Crediting Miles For Flying: Revenue vs. Distance
Many frequent flyer programs around the world have moved to a revenue-earning model for miles, which means that you earn miles for how much you spent on the ticket rather than how much you fly. This of course doesn’t really make much sense because the programs are called “frequent flyer programs”, but it seems like airlines can get away with anything lately. Most of the major frequent flyer programs have moved to this earning model, so these two flights would earn you the same amount of redeemable miles:
- San Francisco – New York
- San Francisco – Seattle – Miami – New York
Even though you’re flying a lot more in the second itinerary, if the price is the same for both itineraries, you are earning the same amount of redeemable miles because you earn based on fare paid and not distance flown. Now, for elite qualifying miles, you could still potentially be earning more miles and segments – so this could still make sense.
The major American and European programs now credit you redeemable miles based on money spent.
Crediting Miles for Partner Flights
The biggest sweet spot that still exists to this day is that in a wide variety of cases, partner flights still credit based on distance flown and not fare paid. The sweet spot is flying a partner airline on a good deal and crediting miles for those flights to “your” program. This doesn’t apply in all cases, but still does in a lot of situations where two airlines are partners.
- a United flight purchased through United but credited to Lufthansa would earn based on distance-flown
- an Air India flight purchased through Air India but credited to United would earn based on distance-flown
Often you see that foreign airlines have great deals on tickets – and in those cases, it makes sense to book that ticket and then credit it to your frequent flyer program if you are earning based on distance flown and booking class. Flying a partner airline on a ticket you found for a great deal makes a lot of sense because it not only can earn you more miles, but it can also allow you to qualify for elite status much quicker.
This exists because airline systems are largely outdated, so often the fare paid for a ticket isn’t sent to a partner airline when crediting flights. However, it is important to note that some airline partners that are closer do share all the ticket details and in those cases, your ticket could credit based on fare paid. Always research before booking.
What About Codeshare Flights?
A codeshare flight is a flight you book through one airline with their own flight number placed on the flight, but in reality, the flight is actually operated by another airline. For example, United can sell you a ticket for a flight operated by their partner ANA but instead of the itinerary having an ANA flight number listed, you will have a United flight number.
Codeshare flights are always messy because the inventory of those flights can be different than the actual flight itself. So United could have fewer seats available as a codeshare on a certain flight. When it comes to crediting miles, it all depends on a number of factors involved:
- the operating airline
- the marketing airline
- the frequent flyer program you are crediting to
If you’ve booked a codeshare flight and you’re wondering how it will credit, it all depends on the factors above – codeshare flights are often messy and you sometimes never really know how they will credit or if they will credit at all. It is best to check with your frequent flyer program directly.
What About Irregular Operations?
In the event your flight is canceled or changed by the airline, and you’re rebooked on another flight, the earning of miles still depends on the frequent flyer program you are crediting to. In some cases if you expected to receive miles based on fare paid and there is a schedule change and you’re rebooked, your original fare paid and the details of it could “confuse” the system and in some cases you could get miles credited based on distance flown. While airline systems are largely outdated, they are catching up so loopholes like this are constantly closing.