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What to do if you don't get miles for a flight

June 09, 2022
8 min read
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When you book a flight and add your frequent flyer number, your miles will post automatically to your account, right? Don't be too sure.

While this should happen in theory, most frequent travelers have plenty of stories of not being awarded what they should have been. If something doesn't look right, it probably isn't.

While we've discussed when you will (and won't) earn miles on your flight, let's assume your ticket is eligible for mileage credit and you've either received no miles or the incorrect number of miles.

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Mileage mishaps, as I'll call them, happen all the time. In the event of an airline mileage mishap, here's what you should do.

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My recent mileage mishap

I ran into a mileage mishap when crediting an Avianca flight to United. (Photo by DANIEL MUNOZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Last month, on a trip to Colombia, I traveled with Avianca — a Star Alliance partner — on three separate Avianca-issued flights. I purchased each flight in the L fare class, so by adding my United MileagePlus number to my Avianca reservations, I was expecting to earn miles and Premier qualifying points at a 75% basis.

(Screenshot from united.com)

However, none of the three flights posted correctly in the L fare class to my MileagePlus account. Most notably, the flight from Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Bogota's El Dorado International Airport Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento (BOG) was erroneously posted in the T fare class, which earns miles at a 25% basis. That's a far cry from the 75% basis that should have been provided.

(Screenshot from united.com)

I called the United Premier 1K MileagePlus service center with my Avianca ticket number. The service center advised me to email mileageplus@united.com with a copy of my Avianca e-tickets and paper boarding passes for review. I had to go through this same process a year ago when a Eurowings flight didn't post to my account, so from that experience, I learned to keep my paper boarding passes until miles are in my account.

But jumping back to the Colombia mishap. After not hearing back for a week, I sent a follow-up email. This time, I heard back from United within a day, and I logged in to my MileagePlus account to see the updated activity.

(Screenshot from united.com)

The two friends I traveled with — one a United Premier Platinum and the other a Premier Gold — also had this issue with the same Avianca flights. Despite providing the same information to United, one friend still hasn't received proper credit for their flights.

Related: United's best kept elite status secret: How to earn PQPs faster with partner flights

Why, how often and what you can do

United Airlines Polaris business class on the Boeing 777-300ER. (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)

At this point, you probably have lots of questions.

While we never will know why exactly mileage mishaps happen, if you ask, chances are that you'll be given the "it's a technical error" explanation.

I generally have three or four mileage mishaps a year (roughly 5% of my flights), though, with these three Avianca errors in a row, this year's mishap activity is an outlier. I've also helped many friends get their mileage accruals corrected. On all of these occasions, I've yet to see a mileage mishap in the customer's favor. But if you check the frequent flyer forum FlyerTalk, there's no shortage of flyers who have benefited from mileage mishaps in their favor.

As I've alluded to, partner flights are more likely to post inaccurately. With different ticketing systems and loyalty programs, the nature of earning AAdvantage miles on a Cathay Pacific ticket is inherently more complicated than earning AAdvantage miles on an American Airlines-issued and -operated ticket.

You can calculate how many miles you'll earn before taking a flight. Let's say you're booking a United flight and want to credit the ticket to your MileagePlus account. You can select "Details" on a specific flight and then select "base award miles." Based on your status, a pop-up will show how many miles you should earn.

(Screenshot from united.com)

While this is how it works with United, it's pretty similar to the other major U.S. carriers. But if you book a ticket with a partner airline or an online travel agency like Expedia and credit it to the airline of your choice, the loyalty program may calculate your mileage accrual based on the distance of your flight and your fare class.

For example, assume you're taking a British Airways flight from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Heathrow Airport (LHR) in economy class booked in the K fare class. According to the AAdvantage-British Airways partner page, this type of fare would earn miles at a 50% basis — so 50% of the flight distance. The distance between SFO and LHR is 5,367 miles, so an AAdvantage member without status would earn 2,684 AAdvantage miles for this ticket.

But this doesn't mean that mileage mishaps can't happen with the loyalty program of the airline selling the flight. When running through a year's worth of Southwest activities, I noticed two flights omitted from my aunt's Rapid Rewards account. We got the flights manually added to her account by contacting customer support.

(Screenshot from southwest.com)

While it might seem like it's more than necessary, here are the best ways to "fight" mileage mishaps:

  1. Know how many miles and elite qualifying metrics you should earn on a flight.
  2. Have easy access to your original flight's e-ticket (ideally as a PDF document) with the 13- or 14-digit ticket number and fare class.
  3. Retain your paper boarding pass until your flight posts — and you've verified it's in the correct amount (airlines may ask for a copy of a paper boarding pass.).
  4. Routinely audit your loyalty accounts (you generally have up to 12 months from the original date of your flight to contest any activity in your account).

Related: Quick Points: How and why you should regularly audit your loyalty accounts

Troubleshooting with the airline

You should plan to wait at least 14 business days from the time of your flight before reaching out to your airline for assistance. If you contact them before this time, they may decline your request and ask you to reach out later.

There's little that phone agents can do on the spot in almost all mileage mishap scenarios. You'll need to give your airline time to research, and agents may need to verify documents, which almost always can't be done over the phone.

So your best bet is to log in to your loyalty account and look for something like "request mileage credit." Although this method is generally used to earn miles retroactively on a flight where a frequent flyer program wasn't provided, it will also let an airline research a flight missing from your account.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

It's similar on all the airlines, but you can also visit the "contact us" form to submit an inquiry if you're running into issues.

Related: How to retroactively credit flights to your frequent flyer account

Bottom line

A Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 in Frankfurt. (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)

You're being cheated out of your points and miles when you fly and don't earn what your airline says you'll earn. If you have to contest how a flight posted to your account, airlines will generally assume that you're in the wrong unless you can provide paper documentation that suggests otherwise.

That's why it's important to keep a copy of your e-ticket and save your paper boarding pass(es) until your flights are properly posted, especially when traveling with a partner or on a codeshare flight. You should also know how many miles and elite qualifying metrics you should earn before you fly, so you know what to look out for after the flight.

As it turns out, airlines aren't the only ones to have mishaps. It's in your best interest to get into the routine of checking your hotel and airline accounts regularly. When you catch an error, you'll quickly realize that your due diligence is worth your while.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases