Flying with No Frequent Flyer Account — Reader Mistake Story

Feb 7, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Evan, who misunderstood the rules for earning United miles with partner airlines. Here’s what he had to say:

For our recent two-week vacation to South America, my girlfriend and I flew Avianca from New York to Buenos Aires and back from Montevideo to Boston. I had booked award flights for myself a while back, and she paid cash once she was sure she could join me. She didn’t have a United MileagePlus account at the time, but I suggested she could create one when we returned home and submit a request for retroactive mileage credit.

Unfortunately, it turns out United won’t let you earn retroactive credit on Avianca flights if you didn’t have a MileagePlus account open before flying. She missed out on earning miles for our flights, which was a little more painful since she booked a Y class fare. I should have checked the rules before flying or simply taken the time to create her account before our trip. Let this be a lesson to your readers!

Evan’s girlfriend would have earned more miles for flying on a full-fare “Y” economy ticket.

Airlines generally allow you to request mileage credit for past flights, and in some cases you can still earn miles up to a year after you travel. Most airlines also allow you to earn miles after the fact even if you don’t already have a frequent flyer account, but the timeline for doing that tends to be much shorter. United will credit new MileagePlus members for flights taken up to 30 days prior to enrollment, and you can extend that to six months by paying a $50 service fee. Unfortunately, as Evan and his girlfriend learned the hard way, those rules only apply to flights operated by United — partner flights are ineligible.

It’s hard to earn travel rewards if you don’t have anywhere to put them. If you’re new to the points and miles game, signing up with major loyalty programs should be your first move. You don’t have to open an account with every airline under the sun, but at the very least, make sure you’re set up to earn miles on each flight before you travel. Even if you’re in some far-flung part of the world on a carrier you never expect to fly again, you may be able to credit miles to a more useful partner program or find creative ways to redeem them apart from flights. If you sign up and earn the miles, at least you’ll have options.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Evan for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Cosmity/Getty Images.

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