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TPG reader Casper sent me an email to ask about earning miles when booking multiple seats:
“I’ll be flying with my guitar on United and I’m well-acquainted with the travails of Dave Carroll and other musicians. I plan on buying two tickets — one for myself and one for my guitar to sit beside me (since it’s a regional jet and there’s no room overhead even if I could slip it past the gate agent). Can I earn miles for the second seat?”
Musicians and airlines are often at odds. Friends of mine who travel with large instruments wonder why US carriers seem to relish mistreating their cases, while airline reps have suggested that perhaps more people should take up the ukulele. To some performers (like Casper), it’s worth buying an extra seat to protect their livelihood. While that doubles the cost of flying, the expense could be offset at least somewhat by earning more miles.
Airlines typically award miles to whoever occupies the seat, not the person who pays the fare. That means with only a few exceptions (like family pooling programs or airlines that allow pets to earn miles for their owners), you can’t earn rewards or elite credits on behalf of your kids, spouse or other passengers on your itinerary, even if you bought their tickets.
However, you can earn miles on some airlines when you purchase an extra seat for yourself. This is commonly done for passengers who can’t fit safely or comfortably in a single seat, but extra seat policies may also apply to luggage, including instruments. In United’s case, extra seats earn redeemable miles as normal (based on the purchase price and your elite status level), though you’ll only earn Premier qualifying miles for your own seat. Alaska Airlines has similar guidelines on its flights, though miles are still earned based on the distance flown.
There are other advantages to buying an extra seat. You may get an additional checked baggage allowance, which helps if you’re hauling extra gear. Both United and Alaska allow you to use miles to book an extra seat, and you can even use an Alaska Airlines companion certificate to reduce your total cost when flying with an instrument. On the other hand, you might have to pay more for changes to your itinerary: While Alaska will only add a single change fee, United charges for both seats.
For their parts, American and Delta do not offer miles of any kind for extra seats, regardless of whether they’re purchased for passengers or luggage. I understand the rationale behind restricting elite miles — allowing passengers to earn status by paying for extra seats might lead to some excessive mileage running. However, not awarding redeemable miles seems a bit stingy to me.
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