Why Should You Change Your Frequent Flyer Number on an Award Ticket?

by on February 23, 2014 · 41 comments

in Points Guy Pointers, Sunday Reader Questions, Video Blog Post

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Last week, I flew United GlobalFirst from Los Angeles to Melbourne, and in my review of the flight I noted that every time I fly an award ticket, I always go to the kiosk to change my frequent flyer number on the reservation.

TPG reader Ritz read that and emailed me to ask, “Why would you do that?”

Whenever you redeem miles for an award, you don’t earn miles on the trip. However, sometime (once in a blue moon!), if you change your frequent flyer number on a reservation to an account you have with a partner airline, you might actually get awarded miles. There can be technical difficulties between frequent flyer programs and it might slip through the cracks so you get the miles, so it can’t hurt to ask.

I don’t push it – for instance, I would never send in boarding passes after an award flight and claim to deserve compensation with a partner airline. But if airlines want to give me free miles (as has happened from time to time), I won’t decline them!

Always keep your boarding passes until your miles have posted.

I won’t send in boarding passes from award flights claiming miles!

Situations where this is worth a shot include if an airline cancels your original flight and rebooks you into a new revenue class – the chances of getting miles awarded on that new ticket have just increased.

It’s also always a good idea to request a change to the frequent flyer number of the partner airline of the one you are flying with which you have the highest elite status, as this might earn you priority boarding or a free checked bag benefit.

This practice is by no means a sure thing, but it’s one of those quirky things I always do when traveling – and it has paid off in the past.

Let me know if you have any other questions by messaging me on FacebookTweeting me or emailing me at [email protected]

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • italdesign

    I’m guessing this can’t be done online?

  • cyclops

    Which partner airlines have you received miles from in the past?

  • Larry

    TPG — can you explain how you go about this? I have booked a few one ways to HI on US using UA miles, and UA has flat out repeatedly told me they cannot change the FF number in the reservation from the one from which the miles came. I explain that I would like to have my US number in there to pick preferred seats, and they tell me there is nothing they can do. When you do this, how do you do it?

  • Sam

    I love this post, thanks TPG. I always put my Aadvantage # in my reservation when I redeem BA Avios for short haul American flights so I can get premium seats. Occasionally, I’ve been able to use 500 mile upgrades to get to the front of the plan (shouldn’t be allowed!)

    Another story: this summer I went from DFW to SEA on Alaska. In preparation, I got Alaska to match my AA status so I could increase my chances of an upgrade. As soon as I received my upgrade notification, I called and switched my FF# on the reservatoin from Alaska to Aadvantage so I could get those valuable my program of choice.

  • pcg

    I got miles credited to my BA FF account while flying an award ticket on LAN business from SCL-LIM-LAX. Pretty cool surprise!

  • JMSL

    Pretty sure you would want to contact HI and ask them to change it. You can do it at check in.

  • np1234

    why do i feel like this is unethical…

  • Buddy M.

    I just logged on to my UA account and brought up the itinerary, clicked on view and then ‘Edit traveler information’ and it let me change the ff number. Now as to whether it actually saved that information, who knows?

  • RG

    video not working

  • peter

    change the ff# to what? a new valid new#? how do you get credit if the # is fictitious?

  • Pau;

    What the??? This works sometimes?

  • jack

    then don’t do it

  • Seth

    Thanks for encouraging your readers to try and take advantage of the airlines by exploiting a loophole in the system that violates the spirit of the terms and conditions of FF programs. The levels you will sink to out of greed never cease to amaze me.

  • UAPhil

    I’ve booked an award using AA miles on AA metal. I’m a general member with AA, but MVP Gold with AS. When I called AA Res, I had no trouble getting them to put my AS number in the record. He immediately saw my status, and offered me access to preferred seating and all other MVP Gold benefits on AA.

  • shonuffharlem

    Can it be only done at kiosk checkin? Or is online checkin okay? Do all Airlines allow you to change FF# at check in?

  • Zila

    Yep, that happened to me once, without even trying… Flew check airlines on delta FF, and got miles on the flight…sweet

  • Brett

    This happened to me on a paid RT flight from LAX to SYD — I booked it through Delta using my Delta frequent flier number, and decided to change at the airport to my Alaska number for various reasons, never aiming to double-dip. Somehow both Delta and Alaska gave me miles for the (quite long) round-trip flight. You better believe I’m not going to call and tell them they $^@&$* up.

  • thepointsguy

    You can usually do it online on the site of the airline where you booked the ticket or at online check-in. If not, do it at the kiosk or ask a check-in agent

  • thepointsguy

    Sometimes.. but you can do it at check-in if you can’t online

  • Karl Mitchell

    TPG: I had heard that BA avios bookings on American get you some level of priority automatically. Is that still the case? If so, does this get rescinded if you switch your frequent flyer number to, say, American or Alaska?

  • thepointsguy

    It isn’t unethical to add your frequent flyer number that has elite status so you can enjoy those benefits that you’ve earned. If the airline decides to give you miles as well, then great. If you ever get miles you didn’t deserve and you don’t want them, you can simply give them back.

  • ocscorpio

    Considering the way most airlines treat frequent flyers, I have zero problem seeing if I can sneak a few extra miles off them from time to time. After all, I’m not stealing them, nor am I even requesting them. All I’m doing is changing my number. If they give me extra points, that’s their doing. Nothing wrong with it at all.

  • ocscorpio

    And yet, if you took the collective greed of everyone who follows this site it still would be a fraction of what the average airline executive possesses.

  • Michael Rasmussen

    That is slick

  • Dan Nainan

    Fantastic, thank you as always TPG for yet another tip that I would never have known about!

  • Res system insider (anonymous)

    It is my understanding that the Star Alliance carriers all use the same booking classes for their free/award tickets, so when an airline sends passenger data messages at the time a flight closes out to various recipients (such as other airlines), a filter should notice the booking class of the passenger and mileage credit would not be given. For non-Star airlines, this loophole may be exploited as described since booking classes might be duplicated between paid/purchased and free/award tickets and sometimes the only indication that someone is on a free/award ticket is the “ticket designator” (the information after the fare basis code…e.g. “AWD00″ in Y06/AWD00) and an airline would need to have a rule written to exclude credit being awarded to all tickets issued with every specific ticket designator (e.g. AWD00) since you can’t write a rule to exclude credit for all tickets issued in a particular booking class (e.g. Y) or off of a specific fare basis (e.g. Y06). Some systems might be advanced enough to have rules written at the ticket designator level to exclude credit, while other systems aren’t so advanced and could only have rules at the booking class level, which would in turn allow credit to potentially be granted under this identified loophole. That said, however, airline staff DO read this blog (and other ones) so the days of this loophole might be numbered. Every system is different and it’s up to the receiving carrier (the one who receives these messages with passenger data) to act accordingly. In some cases, too, the sending carrier may not either have the capability to include or may not have included as a data field to send, the full fare basis code and ticket designator.

  • Steve

    Unethical to the max. Finding loopholes in the system which will eventually lead to higher ticket costs for everyone else. Least favorite post of 2014

  • Phil

    Yes I agree, but then this should have been your first paragraph of the post instead so readers know to focus on utilizing benefits of earned status rather than sneaking extra miles they’re not supposed to earn.

  • Michael Paul
  • Goat Rodeo

    Give me a break – if this was really a huge issue, the airlines would fix their systems to catch their errors. As mentioned in his post “once in a blue moon” isn’t going to cause skyrocketing ticket prices.

  • Pablo Chemes

    Hi, it did worked for me. A couple of years ago traveling with award tickets in Brazil with TAM, they have credited me the miles to my UA program. Good tip!

  • C.T. Rex Pope

    Quick question then: I upgraded a standard United Ticket (not sure of the original class code, but it should have been full-fare coach) to a First Class ticket (international flight) with miles. It is my understanding that in an upgrade situation on United, the new R-class ticket will still earn miles since it is not a full-rewards flight. Is that true? Or should I try this trick?

  • Ashish

    I have a trip coming up. On which I am flying SFO-DFW-FRA-DEL in business class. I booked using this trip using my award miles. DFW-FRA-DEL trip is on lufthansa and SFO-DFW is on United. The trip has my Mileage plus number attached to it? Which frequent flier number should I try to change it to now? Is it possible online?

  • wangkai

    Can you still change your frequent flyer # from Delta to Alaska after booking at Delta?

  • msupp

    Yes, this is apparently still the case. I flew an AA flight on an avios redemption and got priority access (security and boarding). I couldn’t figure out why since I have no status with BA or AA, but that explains it.

  • Parkerthon

    Not to the max. It’s not abusive. Sure, it’s slightly exploiting the whole system which is what FT TPG and all these travel blogs advise on. Why are you on here otherwise when you can read on the airline/credit card sites everything you need to know about how you should use their programs according to their rules and guidelines?

  • DustinB123

    Just booked an international award ticket on United. I was able to get free bags by paying the fees with my United Explorer card. Does changing the FF# affect my free checked bags?

  • Jay

    Change the frequent flyer number to what?

  • alex

    If he intended to give them back, he wouldn’t have changed his ff# in the first place lol, don’t be naive… Its like MS or picking up a quarter on the street… You could just leave the quarter and walk by.

  • alex

    less than a fraction :) you’re being generous! :))

  • Sterling Hutchinson

    i have the same question as shonuffharlem. I’m really just hoping to accumulate miles on a delta booking with my alaska account and delta won’t let me change the associated skymiles account online. Is kiosk check in the best bet? What about online check in? Customer service certainly won’t help me.

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