Do you earn miles when paying for a flight with a travel credit?

May 28, 2020

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Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

For years, travelers have been used to paying for their airfare with one of two methods: points or cash. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing flight cancellations it’s caused have left people trying to understand a third option, the travel credits that many airlines have been issuing in place of refunds. TPG reader Jon wants to know if he’ll still earn miles paying for a flight with a travel credit …

If I get a Delta voucher instead of a full refund for a canceled flight, will I still earn miles when I go to use it for a future flight?

TPG READER JON

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Jon’s question is especially important, as airlines (unlike hotels) don’t offer any sort of elite-qualifying credit or redeemable miles when you book an award flight. Most hotel chains, by comparison, allow you to earn elite-qualifying nights but not redeemable points when you use your points to book an award stay. This is why someone like me who flies over 100,000 miles a year struggles to qualify for elite status with any airline because nearly all of my flights are booked with miles.

In terms of Jon’s question, the answer is quite simple and should come as a relief to people confused about how to use their airline vouchers. When you pay for a flight with any cash-like instrument, whether it’s a credit card, debit card, gift card or travel voucher, you earn miles on the flight like normal. With a travel voucher, even though you aren’t spending any money when you redeem it, you presumably spent some money upfront on your original ticket before the airline canceled your flight and issued you a voucher instead. You don’t get penalized for “pre-paying” in this way, and a flight booked with a travel voucher earns miles at the same rate as one booked using any other cash payment method.

This answer holds true even if you received your voucher “for free,” like if you get bumped off a flight. I had a lucky streak going where for three years in a row, I was bumped off the exact same American Airlines flight from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Chicago O’Hare (ORD) on Jan.2 coming back to school after winter break. Not only did I use the $1,500 worth of vouchers ($500 a year) to take some incredible trips to India and Australia, but that free money went a long way towards helping me meet the revenue requirement to qualify for AAdvantage elite status year after year. With my Gold status I earned 7x miles per dollar, so AA effectively paid me $500 + 3,500 miles to bump each year.

Related: Airline coronavirus change and cancellation policies: A complete list of major carriers

Bottom line

While many people would prefer a full refund to being issued travel vouchers, when it comes to paying for flights and earning miles, these vouchers are as good as cash. If you book a flight and pay with a travel voucher, you’ll earn redeemable and elite miles at normal rates, and you can use these vouchers to help you requalify for elite status once it’s safe to travel again.

Thanks for the question, Jon, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

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