What Should You Do When Airlines Make Mileage Mistakes In Your Favor?

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We all have to stay on top of our miles and points balances to make sure we are earning the miles and points we are due, and airlines, hotels, credit cards and others often make mistakes when it comes to calculating our earnings. But what happens when the mistake is in your favor? TPG contributor Nick Ewen delves into this issue and asks for your opinions on how to resolve it when things go wrong – but also right.

I’m willing to bet that most TPG readers have had experiences with flights/hotel stays/rental cars/etc. not posting to your accounts properly. I can’t be the only one that tracks my accounts using AwardWallet, or even just an Excel spreadsheet –  obsessively logging in to identify any discrepancies, and calling or emailing customer service as soon as I see something wrong.

Someone got credit for flying Air France business class though they had used Delta miles to book an award.
Someone got credit for flying Air France business class though they had used Delta miles to book an award.

Just last month, my Citi Hilton Reserve card miscategorized a Hilton stay (10 points/$) as a regular purchase (3 points/$), resulting in thousands of missing points. Fortunately, a phone call to customer service drew their attention to the problem, and when my next statement closed, the points were posted.

This post, however, isn’t about double- and triple checking your account balances to make sure airlines, hotels and credit cards don’t short change you on your well-deserved points. Instead, it’s about the opposite phenomenon occurring – what do you do when a hotel/airline/rental car company makes a mistake in your favor? Do you let them know about it or do you accept an unanticipated boost to your balance? And does the magnitude of the mistake change the way you would handle it?

Here’s why I ask. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine took a transatlantic award flight in business class on Air France using Delta miles. While he was away, he noticed that the account from which he had redeemed miles got a sudden boost. Imagine his surprise when he logged in and noticed that the airline had mistakenly credited the flight as a full-fare paid business class ticket. The error netted him a 50% mileage bonus plus double elite-qualifying miles, and when factoring in his elite status, he took home over 12,000 redeemable miles and got a significant boost towards his status requalification.

Not only did my friend get mileage credit, but also class of service and elite bonuses.
Not only did my friend get mileage credit, but also class of service and elite bonuses.

The flight had no IRROPS, nor did any of the other flights in the reservation post this way (including the connecting flight immediately after the transatlantic portion). Clearly, this was a one-time glitch, but as it turns out, it was a very rewarding one.

What’s interesting is that I also personally know of another flyer whose friend booked a business class award ticket for him on Air France using Delta miles and he had put his own SkyMiles number on the reservation with the other passenger identification information.  But when his next SkyMiles statement arrived, he found that his account had been credited with the SkyMiles he would have earned if he had bought the business class ticket himself. This makes a little more sense than in my first friend’s situation since there were two separate SkyMiles accounts involved and there was likely a system error, but perhaps this is just an issue with Delta awards on Air France from time to time.

Unfortunately, my friend is still suffering from an attack of moral conscience and he is pondering the following conundrum: If we immediately call attention to mistakes that hurt us and our mileage/point balances, shouldn’t we do the same for mistakes in our favor?

To be perfectly frank, I don’t know where I fall on this issue. My parents always taught me that “Honesty is the best policy,” but at the same time, this flight will really help with his elite status requalification and covers over one-half of a roundtrip award ticket within the U.S. Does staying silent and keeping the miles really hurt anyone?

Another way to think about this situation involves how airlines tend to treat customers on paid tickets. What happens when an airline releases a mistake fare or distributes a coupon or discounts to way too many people? As many of you experienced in the past, these airlines will often catch the mistakes and cancel them or offer less-than-satisfactory options for rebooking. This can wreak havoc on one’s best-laid plans, as one reader discovered with Korean’s Palau fare debacle.

On the other hand, if you mistakenly book a trip and then need to cancel it (outside of any risk-free cancellation period), what happens? You get nailed with a nasty change fee, with most major U.S. carriers now charging a whopping $200 just to change a flight, and that’s not even taking into account any fare differences.

So if an airline can weasel out of their mistake fares and charge you an arm and a leg for your mistakes, shouldn’t we welcome these unexpected miles with open arms as a small consolation prize?

To aid my friend in his moral dilemma, I wanted to enlist the help of TPG readers. At the end of this article is a poll for you all to take. Please let us know your thoughts on this situation. Would you draw the airline’s attention to the mistake or keep the miles? I can’t guarantee that my friend will act on the general consensus, but I do know that he would like some advice from other point-savvy individuals!

Has this happened to anyone else? Did the airline/hotel/car rental agency eventually uncover the mistake and “fix” it? Please share your own experiences in the comments section below.

What would you do if an airline made a mileage mistake in your favor?

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