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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Phil, who maximized the rewards he earned from a business class flight:

As a long time United 1K member, deciding where to post my miles has generally been a no-brainer. However, a recent trip made me think twice about my strategy. I picked up an amazing business-class fare on Singapore Airlines from Ahmedabad to New York with stops in Singapore and Frankfurt. Due to the fare code, this trip would have earned 12,827 miles if credited to United, which seemed pretty meager.

Using WheretoCredit.com (which calculates how many miles you can earn by crediting tickets to different airline programs) along with milecalc.com and webflyer.com, I calculated that the same fare would earn twice as much (25,654 miles) if I credited to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. I didn’t have a Mileage Plan account, but after reading about some excellent redemption options, I decided to open one in order to bank these miles and use them at a later date.

I was able to use those miles on Alaska Airlines’ partner Japan Airlines for a business-class flight from Tokyo to Singapore, which cost 25,000 miles. So by crediting my miles to Alaska instead of United, I basically earned a free business-class flight for my one paid flight. The only downside to this success was that I was not able to claim Premier Qualifying Miles on United, meaning that I am still 13,000 miles short of qualifying for 1K for next year.

Sometimes loyalty blinds us to better opportunities. It is always a good idea to work out how many redeemable miles you can earn on your tickets, even if this means crediting to another airline and losing out on elite credits.

Much like paying with the right credit card for a given purchase, banking your paid flights to the right frequent flyer program can make a massive difference in the rewards you earn. Phil not only earned more total miles by crediting to Alaska Airlines, he also earned more valuable miles — based on TPG’s most recent valuations, that decision netted him an extra $295 worth. The difference won’t be as substantial if you’re flying shorter distances or in economy, but the benefit of maximizing each flight accrues over time.

When you credit miles to a partner airline, make sure the correct program information is attached to your reservation before you travel. Most airline programs will allow you to credit flights retroactively, but you won’t easily be able to move miles from one program to another once they’ve already been credited — at that point, you’re stuck with what you got. Whatever you do, make sure you’re crediting your flights somewhere, even if it isn’t to the program that offers the most best return. If you don’t add a frequent flyer account to your reservation, then you’re just leaving that value on the table.

Phil boosted his mileage earnings, but to truly maximize his flight, he should also account for the impact it will have on his elite qualification. If he’ll still re-qualify for United 1K this year, then the downside he mentioned is negligible. But if crediting his flight to Alaska means he only reaches Platinum status for 2020, then those extra miles come at a considerable cost. Remember to factor in all the variables when you’re making these kinds of decisions for yourself.

Related: Switching Loyalty to Earn More Miles — Reader Success Story

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Phil a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured photo by Christian Kramer / The Points Guy.

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