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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.

United earned a bad reputation among musicians, but its current policy toward instruments is friendlier than some others.

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.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Balance Transfer
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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