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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Peter, whose travel companion missed out on miles offered as compensation:

A friend couldn’t make our planned trip to Hawaii last summer and canceled a week before departure. I needed someone to travel with me at the last minute to help pay for fishing boat and hotel expenses, so I decided to use miles for another buddy’s airfare to get him to join. Midway through our flight, the pilot gets on the intercom and announces that there are no toilets working on the entire plane. Thank God we were just past the halfway point to Kona, or he would have been forced to turn around.

Before returning home, I checked my frequent flyer account and saw I had been credited 30,000 points for “service not up to the airline’s standards” for the issues on the outbound flight. After phoning the airline regarding my companion, however, I was told that since he did not have his own frequent flyer number in his reservation at the time, no compensation would be given to him (even if he signed up retroactively). If he had a frequent flyer number with the airline to start, then those points would have been his.

Most airlines allow you to credit flights retroactively to your frequent flyer account. You may be able to claim mileage and elite credits even if you open your account after you travel, but you’re still better off showing up for your flight with an established account and your frequent flyer number attached to your reservation. One reason is that airlines may limit retroactive credit to flights on their own metal — for example, United won’t let you bank an Avianca flight if you didn’t already have a MileagePlus account when you flew. Any rewards you earned in that scenario would be confined to the LifeMiles program, which effectively squanders them if you’re left with a small balance and can’t transfer miles in from elsewhere.

Another reason to enroll in frequent flyer programs proactively is to avoid what happened to Peter’s friend. The best time to address flight service issues is when they occur, and it’s easier for an airline to offer miles as compensation on the spot if you’re already a member. Any impediment can reduce your chances of a favorable outcome, so help yourself by making it as simple and straightforward as possible for airline representatives to help you. Make a habit of attaching your frequent flyer number to each itinerary; there’s no downside apart from the few extra seconds it takes, 

Related: Everything You (Never) Wanted to Know About Airplane Toilets

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Peter 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 info@thepointsguy.com, 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. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by frontpoint / Getty Images.

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