Cash Back

No, you can’t earn rewards while flying a free rewards flight


Airlines’ exclusions policies limit where you can use frequent flier miles, and that prevents you from earning extra miles while using your free ones

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of our partner offers may have expired. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

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 traveling a lot in the next year to visit a sick relative. — Kay

Dear 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 that.

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



Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

What’s up next?

Credit Card Rate Report Updated: November 25th, 2020
Cash Back

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more