How Many Miles Can I Earn on a Single Airline Ticket?

Feb 28, 2019

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

The three US legacy carriers (Delta, United and American Airlines) have all switched to revenue-based programs when it comes to awarding miles their members. Up to a point, that is. TPG reader Dawn has a question about how many miles she can earn on a single ticket …

I’m frequently buying $10k United tickets and my elite mileage multiplier is 11x. Is there a maximum number of miles I can earn in a single ticket, and if I book two one-ways, will I still earn the full miles?

TPG READER DAWN

It sounds like Dawn’s travel patterns are going to earn her a bunch of United miles as it is, but she doesn’t want to leave anything on the table. For all the differences between them, the US legacy carriers have played a giant game of follow the leader with much of their respective loyalty programs, and all three have the same policy here: The maximum number of miles you can earn on a single ticket is 75,000, though United notes that this does not include Award Accelerator purchases or promotional bonus miles.

In Dawn’s case, a $10,000 ticket with an 11x multiplier would get her about 110,000 United miles if the program offered unlimited earnings (we’ll assume that $10,000 is the base fare, though her earnings would be a bit less if that’s the total fare, as you don’t earn miles on taxes and fees). Unfortunately, since United caps earning at 75,000 miles per ticket, she wouldn’t earn that full amount.

Dawn is correct that if she booked two one-way tickets instead of a round-trip ticket, she would be able to earn up to 75,000 miles on each separate ticket. However, it might not be that simple. Due to the nature of business travel, long-haul premium cabin one-way tickets often cost nearly as much as the round-trip, so Dawn might inadvertently double her costs this way.

Here we can see a round-trip business class ticket from Newark (EWR) to Frankfurt (FRA) for $2,720, a pretty decent deal.

However, the one-way ticket departing on the same day costs nearly three times as much as the round-trip!

This obviously won’t be true in every case, but Dawn will have to figure out a strategy that simultaneously maximizes her mileage earning and keeps the actual costs reasonably low. TPG values United miles at 1.3 cents each, so if Dawn ends up missing out on ~35,000 miles, that would only be about $455 in lost value. That’s still a decent chunk of change but will likely be nowhere near as expensive as splitting her round-trip ticket into two one-ways.

Bottom Line

Getting anywhere close to the maximum number of miles you can earn on an airline ticket is certainly a good problem to have, but it’s also one to be aware of when flying with the three US legacy carriers. If the prices work out, you can always consider splitting your round-trip ticket into two one-way tickets instead, but on many routes this will cause prices to jump to significantly. Do your research and crunch the numbers to make sure you have the best plan in place to balance mileage earning potential and out-of-pocket costs.

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

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