Here’s How It’s Possible to Earn Miles Flying on Award Tickets

Reader Robert asked,

Are there any situations when a flight that one booked with award points earn actually earns points?

For example when a late flight results in a misconnection and rebooking by the airline onto another flight?

In general frequent flyer award tickets (tickets you buy with miles) do not earn miles. But there are exceptions to that rule.

bmi Was the Whale of All Mileage-Earning on Awards

british midland used to give mileage credit for Star Alliance award tickets on several airlines booked through partner mileage programs. This was a glitch that was broadly exploited. An international first class award, say, on Thai Airways paid for with United miles could net you gold elite status in the program and enough miles for a business class cash and points award between the US and Europe. You simply needed to submit boarding pass stubs after the trip. A few people ran into problems with this, and it didn’t work for travel on all Star Alliance airlines, but it did work. Just one of the many loopholes in the Diamond Club program that made it so special (and, probably, so unprofitable!).

Sometimes it Just Happens ‘By Accident’

There are also more specific, less easily replicable ‘accidents’. Earlier in the year I flew Etihad on an American AAdvantage award. I had added my Etihad Guest number to the reservation earlier on, but my first flight segment didn’t earn any miles. Checking in at Abu Dhabi for my flight to the Maldives the agent confirmed my number was in the reservation, and that flight did credit to my account complete with class of service bonus. The rest of my flights did not.

American AAdvantage-issued awards on British Airways used to reliably earn miles — either credited back to an AAdvantage account (!) or credited to a British Airways Executive Club account.

Delta Offers it as a Feature of the Skymiles Program — But it’s Not a Good Deal

Delta co-brand American Express cardholders can use miles as cash towards paid tickets. They can pay for a ticket in whole or in part with miles, and first and business class tickets redeemed that way will earn miles. Don’t get too excited — a $2000 ticket would cost 200,000 miles with ‘pay with miles’.

The Most Common Way to Earn Miles is Due to Irregular Operations

When your flight is cancelled or substantially delayed and you are rebooked:

  1. On another airline. It doesn’t matter than your original ticket was paid for with miles, since you will almost always be rebooked as a revenue passenger you should be able to earn miles either in the mileage program of the airline you’re actually flying, or with one of their partners. (Some airline award ticket rules say you cannot be rebooked onto another carrier but that is not universal, or universally followed.)
  2. In a revenue booking class. Many airlines have procedures that if your fare class isn’t available on a given flight (there are no award seats available, in this case) then they are supposed to get inventory management to open one when rebooking you. But the shortcut is just to book you as full fare or at least into the lowest fare class available on the flight. That means your ticket will often be treated as a revenue one for mileage earning purposes.

And of Course, as Compensation for Delays or Poor Service

I flew British Airways London – Toronto back when American Airlines miles could not be used for BA flights between London and the US (but there were no fuel surcharges collected on those awards, either).

It was during the cabin crew strike, and I was fortunate that my flight operated almost as-scheduled with replacement crew. But they weren’t fully provisioning the aircraft. It was a first class award and all I was served was a cold salad to eat.

Under the circumstances I understood this, but I still emailed AAdvantage to let them know that I didn’t receive the product I had anticipated when redeeming the award, and they credited some miles to my account.

You may not earn flight miles or elite qualifying miles this way, but being on an award ticket doesn’t forfeit your ability to claim compensation when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to.

    You can join the 30,000+ people who see these deals and analysis every day — sign up to receive posts by email (just one e-mail per day) or subscribe to the RSS feed. It’s free. Don’t miss out!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Yes, and of course, if you are booking with POINTS and not miles from a specific frequent flyer account (Ultimate Rewards, FlexPerks — the old Northwest frequent flyer transformation after merging with Delta — the Capital One Venture card VISA, and probably lots of other bank cards) you ALWAYS get the miles.

  2. I have earned miles on award tickets before. Of course they are glitches and if word ever got out they would disappear. I suspect one way still works, I’ve done it a few times. The other is dead.

  3. If your award ticket is rebooked as a revenue ticket, what happens when you try to cancel the ticket and get a refund? Do you get miles or money back?

  4. If you need MQMs, the Delta pay with miles for discounted F/J isn’t that bad of a deal since you earn 150% MQMs on your “award” ticket. This is especially true if you have way too many DL miles, like I do.

  5. I got mileage credit and class of service bonus for one segment of an award last year, but luckily it was IAD-CDG and so that was like 5000 miles. *Sighs* good times

  6. I’ve managed to get some acquaintances airline elite status — even program top-tier elite status (not that it is too hard to get when its A3*G) — on the basis of airline award tickets alone being rebooked. This has been mostly courtesy of IRROPs and/or showing up and wanting to take an earlier or later flight than originally booked. It helps if the ticket was booked by a carrier other than the operating carrier and the agent wants to get you changed over quickly and move on, but that depends.

    I had BA-issued award tickets for AA-operated flights today. An AA flight got cancelled and then the passengers were automatically rebooked by AA into T. Called up and asked for an additional change due to the cancelled flight and schedule change and an additional delay and soon enough it’s booked in Y and an AA ticket number. My bet historically would be that this would earn miles and be eligible for other bonuses, as applicable in whichever program the customer chooses.

    DL is the US legacy major that has most cracked down on this sort of thing when it is the operating carrier.

    The biggest one (for earning regular miles on award tickets without going to questionable extremes) was probably the AA-BA game.

  7. If you use your Skymiles on VA for a biz ticket US-AU, you will get full miles on Virgin Velocity, which is an excellent program.

  8. I booked a flight LAX-SXM with united miles on us air flight for next May, all 5 segments booked into O class. I linked the reservation to my us air account, will these earn miles on us air?

  9. There can be times where a Delta 1st ticket is near the price of an award ticket. Then, clearly, PWM is a good value as you get back rather than just spend. It can also be the case where a flyer in needed a few more MQMs to make a bump up to a medallion level and rather than spending cash can do 1st PWM and earn the MQMs at say 150% vs just burning points for an award. These are not common but the math should always be run before redemption.

  10. It would be foolhardy to reveal the actual name, but there is a non-credit card “mileage program” (also not attached to an airline) that issues what are in effect consolidator tickets as awards. On some airlines, the fare code is such that mileage in that airline’s FF program (or its alliance affiliates) will not credit. However, on a couple of airlines, those award flights will show up as a regular fare class and earn mileage in that carrier’s FF program. Not only that, but by adding your FF elite account number, the flights become eligible for elite upgrades too. The program T&Cs will state that FF mileage will not be earned on these tickets, but it’s not always these case…and since the program has bought the ticket at a fare equivalent to what I’d pay for discount flights, there is no reason why I should not be earning mileage in that airline’s FF program, or that of one of its alliance partners.

  11. @Delta Points – that’s not a point at which pay with points is a good deal, but one where pay with miles is a bad deal. In that case, don’t waste your miles on either.

  12. How does one change the FF program associated with an award? I recently booked a United award with points transferred from Chase. When I go into the reservation to change my FF program, it just reverts back to my United account info.

  13. @DavidB I understand and appreciate you not revealing the name of this program outright, but any hints, even if a little obtuse, would be wonderful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *