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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Danielle, whose upgrade was less rewarding than she expected. Here’s what she had to say:

My friends and I booked an amazing South African vacation on Qatar with flights from LAX-DOH-JNB for $602 per person. I’m Platinum Pro on American Airlines, and since Qatar is a Oneworld partner, this was an even better deal because I could earn miles and elite credits using my AAdvantage frequent flyer number. I did the math and paid an extra $120 for a V-class fare instead of N-class because I’d earn 50% base American miles and 10% EQDs per mile flown (instead of 25% and 5%, respectively). Both earn 0.5 EQMs per mile flown.

A week before my flight, I received an email invitation to upgrade to Qatar business class for $1,000. Again, I did the math. Paying $62.50 per hour for the better service was somewhat palatable, and it would still be less than the usual cost of a coach ticket from California to South Africa. But what really made the decision for me was that I would be upgraded to R class, which meant bumping my earnings up to 100% base miles, 1.5 EQMs per mile flown, and 20% EQDs per mile flown. When I put the numbers into my spreadsheet to calculate what level of status I’d earn for the year, I saw upgrading would put me at Platinum Pro again instead of Platinum. I decided to go for it.

The flight was amazing and the service was great; I loved every second of it! When I got back, I tracked my miles to make sure they were credited as expected. I was happy to see so many miles post to my account, but they posted as though I was in V class and not in R. I sent my boarding pass and other documentation to Qatar to try and get the rest, and learned from them that promotional and award upgrades earn miles based on the original booking class, and not the upgraded class. It’s my fault for not reading the fine print!

Whether you’re using points or cash, paying to upgrade is a great way to fly up front for a discount, especially when you book an inexpensive ticket like Danielle did. But while upgrading should give you a better flight experience, you might not get all the perks that normally come with your new class of service. In addition to limiting mileage and elite credits, earlier this year Qatar Airways also restricted baggage and lounge benefits to the original fare class, making upgraded passengers ineligible. Rules vary depending on the airline and the upgrade type, so double-check which benefits apply before you book.

One thing Danielle did right was to track her miles. I recommend making that part of your routine not only for flights and hotel stays, but also for rewards earned from credit card bonuses and spending, as well as other promotions. Be vigilant if you’re earning rewards through a partner (like a shopping portal or rental car), since those transactions are more susceptible to mix-ups. In particular, keep an eye on any earning activity that you’re depending on to qualify for elite status or to keep rewards active, since the stakes are higher if your points don’t post as expected.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Danielle for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her 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. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Photo by Domanich/Getty Images 

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