No, you can't earn rewards while flying a free rewards flight
Airlines' exclusions policies limit where you can use frequent flier miles
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com
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Dear Cashing In,
I recently discovered to my surprise
that I can't earn points on my upcoming American Airlines flight, which I
purchased using points. That seems unfair. What else am I missing out on in the
fine print? I have a Citi AAdvantage card and will probably be travelling a lot in
the next year to visit a sick relative. -- Kay
Although road warriors will laugh at
this, my instinct is to try to get credit at the gate. After all, I'm putting
in the miles. Understandably, however, the airlines don't feel obligated to
reward us for the reward they gave us (a free flight) for being loyal customers.
This clause in American Airlines'
AAdvantage terms and conditions is
standard across all airlines: "You may accrue mileage only for purchased,
eligible, published-fare tickets on qualifying routes used in accordance with
all applicable conditions of carriage, tariffs, rules and terms of ticketing
and travel." The operative word there is "purchased."
That contract also states
"no mileage credit will be awarded for canceled flights or if you are
accommodated on another airline."
There's no detail offered here on what
they consider a "canceled flight," but if your award flight is canceled for
reasons due to an error by the airline (not by you or due to weather or strike),
agents will likely issue mileage credits for a rebooked flight. Likewise, if
you're booked in the wrong class due to some flight irregularity, airlines have
been known to issue reward points for that leg of the journey. It's always
worth asking. I've heard of passengers who missed a flight and ended up earning
miles on the rebooked fare, but that was obviously human error.
When award fares were canceled due
to Hurricane Sandy, some passengers thought they'd ended up with frequent flier
credit for their reissued tickets. The confusion began when the new tickets
were booked in "Y" class instead of the original "T." T is the common code used
on award tickets and Y usually indicates paid coach fare.
The WebFlyer forum was abuzz with
questions about whether the Y-code tickets would make the rebooked passengers
eligible for miles. It doesn't appear they were. With American Airlines'
AAdvantage program, Y can also indicate AAnytime Awards booked in economy class
(F is for first class).
One piece of good news for you is
that your credit card, Citi AAdvantage, allows you to get 10 percent of your
redeemed AAdvantage miles back -- up to 10,000 per calendar year. That's not as
good as getting credit for the entire award flight, but it's a nice perk and more
than most airline cards offer. So is the $100 flight discount you get for every
year you spend $30,000 on the card. Your card also gets the standard airline
card perks of first checked bag free and priority boarding.
If you ever decide not to renew
that card, make sure any miles you logged that month have been transferred to
your AAdvantage account before you
cancel the card or those miles will vanish. Any miles earned prior to the
current billing period are safely banked in your frequent flier account. This
is true of all airline cards, by the way.
Be proactive about following up on
those credits and discounts, by the way, just as you should make sure any miles
flown appear on your account. If you book your flight on Expedia, Travelocity or
something similar, and a prompt doesn't appear for you to insert your frequent
flier account number, contact the airline directly to request mileage credit
for the flight.
If you have to cancel an award
flight, the airline is supposed to return unused miles to your account and
refund any taxes on the flight, as long as you cancel within 24 hours of making
the reservations. If you don't see the miles in your account online after a
couple days, call the airline. Continental, which merged with United Airlines in 2012, used to be famous for lagging on
You're also eligible for frequent
flier miles if someone else pays for and arranges your flight but, again, it's
up to you to contact the airline and make sure your account is credited.
See related: 8 credit card strategies of frequent flier pros, Strategies for maximizing frequent flier credit card points
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