Will I Earn Miles and Elite Status on Award Flights?

Oct 4, 2015

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Our rookie question of the week comes from TPG reader Joey, who sent me a message on Facebook to ask about whether his recent flight earns elite-qualifying miles:

“I booked award travel using AAdvantage miles to fly from LGA-CLT-PDX, and bought an upgrade to first. I’m counting on the miles and segments from that flight to help me reach Platinum status, but I haven’t seen them reflected in my account yet. Is it because I paid with miles?”

If we could earn rewards and elite status on award flights, the points and miles game would be a whole lot easier! Unfortunately, as Joey is learning the hard way, most airlines don’t allow it.

Generally speaking, flights paid for with points or miles are unlikely to earn rewards of any kind, including elite-qualifying miles. This holds true even if you pay for an upgrade later because you’ll be booked into a fare class that doesn’t qualify. Your flight experience might be identical to that of your seatmates who paid cash, but they’ll earn rewards and you won’t.

Hotels are more generous about offering elite credits, as many of them do so even on award stays, including Starwood, Hilton and Club Carlson. However, you still won’t earn points for your stay if you used points to pay for it, and in many cases if you booked through a third party.

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You can earn miles and elite credit on Delta when you use the Pay with Miles benefit.

There are a few exceptions among airlines as well. Delta awards Medallion Qualification Miles and Segments on the cash portion of tickets paid for using the Pay with Miles feature, which is a benefit of the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express and other co-branded Delta Amex cards. Paying with Miles only gets you a redemption value of about 1 cent per mile, but it’s nice that you at least get a return on the paid part of your fare.

You can also earn miles and elite credits on award flights when you use flexible or fixed-value rewards to redeem directly through your credit card issuer. For example, flights booked through the Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal or Citi ThankYou Travel Center count as revenue fares, so they earn rewards just like if you had paid cash. Similarly, you can earn rewards when you redeem miles from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, because in either case you actually do pay cash for your flight, and then use miles to wipe the charge from your card statement.

If you need help reaching AAdvantage Platinum status, you have some options. The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard gives you 10,000 EQMs when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year, though you’d only have a few months left to do so in 2015. You can also look into status matches or challenges, including the AAdvantage Platinum challenge that was recently offered by FoundersCard. Otherwise, you might take some inspiration from TPG intern Kevin Song’s recent 72-hour mileage run marathon, and get there the old-fashioned way.

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

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