Can this trip be saved? No miles for my flight — can you retrieve them for me?

Here’s a type of case that crosses my desk often, and to which I almost always say “no.” But should I?

Oscar La Torre recently took two flights — one from Miami to Sao Paolo on TAM and the other on from Lima to Piura on LAN Airlines. He’s entitled to miles on OnePass for the TAM flight and through his AAdvantage account for LAN, he says. Both airlines are denying him.

Can I save his miles?

Before I answer, a disclaimer: I am, as many of you know, a frequent flier program skeptic. I believe loyalty programs benefit airlines more than they do travelers, and they also divide us into “haves” and “have-nots” on the plane, which makes this egalitarian, idealistic crusader bristle. But enough about me.

And another disclaimer: La Torre offered no details of his transaction in his query. Did he input his frequent flier number when he booked? Did his ticket specifically qualify for miles? He doesn’t say.

La Torre’s problem is incredibly common. That’s because not all tickets qualify for miles, which is a little-known fact among inexperienced air travelers. Also, airlines have so-called “code-sharing” partnerships with other airlines that incorrectly imply you’ll get miles for flying on someone else’s plane. (Such an arrangement makes no sense in any other industry, but again, I digress.)

Our mileage collector has been after all four airlines for his credit, to no avail. “I have called several times to American Advantage,” he says. “They say this ticket does not qualify for miles and the airlines keep blaming each other [for it].”

As for OnePass, it’s demanding to see copies of his boarding passes.

(Didn’t I tell you to keep you boarding passes?)

So why do I hesitate about this one?

Well, one thing is clear: If La Torre flew on TAM and LAN, and if his tickets qualified for frequent flier miles, then he should be able to get them. And if this were a clear case of his miles being denied unjustly, then it might make my choice a little easier.

But American has already told him his flights don’t qualify, so I don’t think I’ll have much luck persuading them to change their mind. As for OnePass, the asking-for-a-boarding-pass maneuver is a known delay tactic. Airlines are quick to offer miles, but if they could find a reason to not give them to you, they would.

I also hesitate because I think mileage programs are a racket, and I don’t want to encourage my readers to participate in programs that will hurt them.

How is this hurting a passenger like La Torre?

Well, who’s to say he didn’t choose the flight because of the miles, maybe opting for a more expensive flight or a less convenient routing, just so he could collect miles? While that may help TAM or American, it really does him no good — particularly if he gets little or no benefit from going out of his way to fly on these carriers.

However, the airline is a clear winner. Not only did it deny him miles but he probably paid it a higher fare.

Oh, I don’t know. Am I letting my bias influence my decision to mediate cases? Without a doubt.

La Torre’s case would be a questionable one, even if I adored loyalty programs. You can’t assume your ticket will qualify for miles anymore, let alone for partnership or codeshare credit. That, and my anti-frequent flier program bias, makes me inclined to turn this case down.

And so I turn to you, dear readers, for a reality check. What would you do?

(Photo: kaw anet/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Brooklyn

    I think you should at least look at the situation. If his ticket was bought online, it should be possible to see whether there was a notice that it didn’t qualify for miles. If it did, then you should mediate, if only to support your position that the airlines are dishonest in their handling of loyalty programs. And perhaps drawing attention to the problem will influence Congress in its next round of airline regulation – surely this is the kind of thing that should be clearly posted before the ticket is purchased.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Did he check before he bought the ticket whether it qualified for miles? If no, then don’t bother checking for him. If someone told him YES, then I think mediation would be in order…

  • Crissy

    I have 2 questions before I can really answer –
    1. When he booked did the website say that the flights were valid for miles. I know that not all flights are, some websites are upfront about the milage value, others are not.
    2. Who did he book through and did he include his FF#’s? Normally you can only put in 1 FF # and if it’s not in before the flight then you can’t get the miles.

    If he put in his FF # for American and the flights and the LAP flights aren’t eligable for miles then close out this case. If he did have the Onepass # in the reservation then I would go after those miles. Sounds as though the AA miles are dead either way.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Good questions. He didn’t indicate whether the flight was eligible for miles when he booked, or whether he input his FF number. I’m going to have to ask him.

  • Boonababe

    help the brother out!

  • BAB19

    I don’t fly enough to make frequent flyer miles an issue. When I do fly, I try to use Alaska because we have an Alaska credit card, so the miles pile up that way and we have been able to use them.

    As an aside, my husband forgot to put my frequent flier number on a ticket to Rome. Obviously, Alaska doesn’t fly there, but their “partners” do. When I got home, I sent Alaska a letter with all the evidence I had – not all the boarding passes, but some of them and I think my luggage tags. They credited me the full amount of miles, no questions or hassle! That was only 3 years ago, not the dark ages. I think they are rated highly in evaluations of frequent flier programs and that attitude is probably the reason.

  • Elizabeth Ann Smith

    You need to know the fare basis codes before pursuing this, as some fare basis codes don’t qualify for miles, some qualify for a fraction, some are 1:1, etc. And as someone else noted, his frequent flyer accounts needed to have been in the reservation.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I don’t mean to sound insensitive to La Torre’s issue, but complaints like this fall under the same category of, “They didn’t have my choice of in-flight meal” or “The flight attendant was rude” — it’s definitely a customer service problem, but I’m just not sure how big a problem it is. Am I wrong about this?

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    My first question is who is “LAP Airlines”? Are we talking about LAN Airlines which is a member of the oneworld program?

    My second question is where are the details of the transaction? On the surface, it appears that this was a single reservation not two one-way reservations; therefore, the ticket wasn’t purchased from an airline website (i.e. CO or AA) but was purchased from a site like Orbitz, Expedia, etc.

    Was it purchased from a travel consolidator? Tickets from travel consolidators are not eligible for FF miles.

    Did he entered his FF numbers on the original reservation or at the airport when he traveled?

    What was the type of fares did he purchased? It is very clear on CO’s website,, and AA’s website,, which fares of tickets that are eligible for FF miles.

    “However, the airline is a clear winner. Not only did it deny him miles but he probably paid it a higher fare.” I doubt that since it is cleary posted on CO and AA websites that super duper discounted fares do not receive miles. Plus, we don’t know if he purchased his tickets from a travel consolidator which is even cheaper than the cheapest fares from the airlines that is the reason why those tickets are not eligible for FF miles.

    Without the details, it is hard to vote one way or the other. It seems like you are asking us to vote based upon emotions, opinions, etc. of FF programs not the facts.

    “Am I letting my bias influence my decision to mediate cases?” I said ‘Yes’ as well as your writingreporting based upon this article (where there was no details about the transaction at all) as well as the article that you wrote this past Friday about the Marriott Rewards program,

  • Psbgsa

    I disagree with you about FF miles. They are more difficult to understand than they use to be but can be an advantage. I am leaving for Spain soon and was able to reduce my ticket price by $250 by trading in 25,000 miles times the 2 of us going it saved me $500.00

  • Katie Brady

    Well, I agree with other commenters that if it was clearly stated that they were eligible flights and he followed all the rules, then the airline is clearly just doing him a poor disservice as a loyal customer (as they often do) and that is reason to take it to another level.

    I know I have had this issue, flying on a major airline’s partner to New Zealand, which they clearly stated earned FF credit. And, all of my flights did- including domestic NZ flights hopping around the islands- until the return flight. I checked shortly after we returned and none of my party’s flights were credited. They told me to wait the 45 days (even though all the others had been posted in 2 days’ time) and get back to them. Then when I did, they wanted boarding passes. Now, I save everything from trips, but guess what: one of my boarding passes had actually ripped in half out of my hand in the NZ wind on the tarmac, and the others were lost when my backpack was stolen on our return stop in San Francisco. At this point they advised there was nothing they could do… even though I obviously argued, “Do you really think I never came home??”

    But, there is nothing about common sense in the fine print. So, I basically just felt screwed all around between this and the theft! When they give you the run around until you’re just SOL, then it leaves a pretty sour taste about that airline. How is that good business?

  • Christopher Elliott

    @Arizona, I did check, and there is (or was) a LAP Airlines, but now that I review this query, I’m fairly sure he meant to say “LAN.”

    Also, I updated the post to reflect that we don’t have the details of his transactions.

    We’ve been through all of this before, my friend. I have to make a call based on incomplete information all the time, and this one’s no exception.

    Ditto for the Marriott case on Friday. I will not be able to publish the minutia you require to make up your mind about a case — not when Marriott and the reader can’t or won’t offer it to me.

    It is nice to know as much as you do about the terms and conditions on each offer and frequent flier program, and I appreciate you sharing it with us here.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    I am not aware of any airline in the Star Alliance program or any airline in the oneworld program where you can purchase a ticket from their website where one legsegmentetc. is on an airline that is NOT a partner with the airline or is NOT a member of the alliance program. In other words, you can’t go to the CO’s website and purchase a ticket that includes a segment on AA since AA is not an airline partner with CO or a member of the Star Alliance. It is my guess that this ticket was purchased from a website like Expedia, Orbtiz, etc.

    It is cleary posted on the CO and AA websites which fares on their airline partners and members of their respective alliances are eligible for FF miles.

  • LadySiren

    Chris, you need to add a “maybe” button. There’s not enough info here. My gut says, nope – if the flight doesn’t qualify, it doesn’t qualify.

    That being said, I might change my answer if it wasn’t clear that the flight didn’t qualify for FFMs or if it did qualify and the airlines are just being too greedy / lazy / insert your favorite adjective here.

    So, can we have a “maybe” button, pretty-please? :)

  • Atlmom

    I disagree with you re: FF miles. Delta (and I’m not typically quick to praise them) has a great program. They deal with FF miles like anything else – it costs more miles the closer you get to the flight – but typically you can get a seat with miles. It’s great, and their website is easy to use for FF miles, as well.
    that having been said, well, I’m not sure about the mediating…it seems there’s not enough information. I’ve been denied miles before (ahem, by delta) when i flew on a ‘partner’ airline and hadn’t saved the boarding passes. I just didn’t pursue it. But recently, I flew on airtran, and my husband and i got our miles – but my kids didn’t. All I did was send an email to them, and it was taken care of, no big deal – no giving up boarding passes. And the res was thru Amex, so it wasn’t even ‘their’ reservation…

  • Christopher Elliott

    @LadySiren, sorry. If I added a “maybe” it would win every time. There’s never going to be enough information to make a perfect decision. The point of the exercise is to decide whether to mediate the case based on the information available. That’s what’s driving the likes of @Arizona crazy. They want all the facts in before rendering a verdict.

  • Wrona

    You’re assuming he’s a loyal customer to either airline. For all we know he’s a once a year traveler, who has signed up for all the airlines frequent flyer programs just so the miles don’t go orphaned. I mostly fly OneWorld airlines but still have to fly SkyTeam and Star Alliance airlines occasionally so am a member of frequent flyer programs in those alliances, but I certainly couldn’t be called loyal to those particular airlines just because I’m a member of their frequent flyer programs.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    In my professional experience in managing people, it is very rare if I get the whole story…I usually get the ‘protect the butt’ story from the person. There are three sides…one party’s side…the other party’s side and the truth. In my position, I need to know the whole story before I can make a decision, push it up the corproate ladder, take a stand, etc.

    After reading your blog for years, it is no different when someone writes to you about their problem. I thought it was the role of a journalist to get to the truth (unless they are writing an opinion column). I think that you need to dig to get to the truth to truly see if the traveler provider is wrong or if the traveler was wrong.

    FYI: TAM Airlines purchased LAP Airlines in 1996 and the name was changed to TAM.

  • Zeke321

    I voted “yes.” You don’t really have enough info to know if you can save it or not, but, since you’re well-known as a consumer advocate, that’s why people turn to you. So I think you probably should try.

  • Clare

    I’m with Atlmom, I am no fan of ANY particular airline but have had good luck with Delta’s FF program. In the past, I did screw up on one int’l flight, forgetting to give them my FF#, but I sent them the boarding passes after the fact and they quickly credited me all the miles, no problem.

    And by collecting miles from Delta flights, and flights from other, code-share airlines, eventually I got a free–truly free–European vacation RT flight out of them! (Okay, I paid about $100 for the taxes. But the flight itself was worth well over $1000.)

    IF the OP did indeed give them his FF# and any other requested info, for flights which were not labelled as ineligible for miles, then by all means, please help the guy, because he’s getting burned.

    Perhaps this case can serve as a lesson for anyone contacting Chris in the future: provide right up front AS MANY RELEVANT DETAILS AS POSSIBLE!

  • Elizabeth Ann Smith

    Ask the guy to provide to you his receipt(s) with the fare basis codes, see if they qualify or not, and if so, then intervene. The reason airlines ask for boarding passes is because they will quickly show his frequent flyer numbers, demonstrate that he checked in for the flights, and most likely flew them. However, the flight records should show whether or not he flew the flights. As you said, always keep receipts and boarding passes.

  • Carver

    Actually has an option to purchase

    1. AA only
    2. AA and oneworld partners
    3. Any carrier

    But you really have to work hard to find this option

    I agree 100 percentt that which flights earn miles are posted and easy to determine by anyone.

  • Christopher Elliott

    @all, the point of this exercise, and to a certain extent, “Is this enough compensation?” (Tuesday’s post) is to make a call based on the available information.

    The reason it’s designed that way goes back to 2007 and 2008, when many commenters questioned my decisions to mediate cases that they say I shouldn’t have.

    When you receive several hundred cases a week, you can’t research every one and get all the facts before deciding to mediate. You have to make the call based on what you have, usually.

    If you’d prefer a lecture to a debate, I have several other features (Travel Troubleshooter, Navigator, etc.) that are fall under the journalism/commentary category.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Carver

    I’m one of those people that throw away my boarding pass as soon as I get my luggage. For some reason I my boarding pass after the flight. the ticket agent confessed to me that you never actually need a boarding pass. What you really need is the ticket number which can be onbtained from the initial confirmation e-mail.

  • Carver

    That’s just not true. You can input your FF# number months afterwards and get credit for a flight. In fact, some airlines will even let you sign up for the loyalty program after the flight and still be creditted for the flight.

  • Wandering Aramean

    Holly arrogance, Batman. If you don’t want to help the guy then don’t, but the railing against the programs is a bit over-the-top. Of course they’re going to benefit the airlines; if they didn’t then what company would have them? And they can benefit the consumers, too, but it requires some effort on the part of the passenger. Certainly the airlines aren’t just giving flights away to everyone who asks nicely.

    As for the boarding pass thing, if he didn’t have a FF# on the reservation originally then of course the airline should be able to request proof of travel. Otherwise I’d just say I’m flying in F on transcons 4x daily and screw them out of miles. Hardly a scam there.

  • Carver

    A couple of thoughts. Chris has been very upfront about his dislike of loyalty programs. While I think this is vey short sighted and illogical, I have to admire his forthrightness and journalistic integrity.

    I do believe however, that as loyalty programs are an integral part of the travel experience for millions, we should expect to have more and more issues arising from them and accordingly, we’ll be seeing more stories relating to these programs

  • Phil

    If one goes to the frequent flyer program of the airline in question and looks at the section on how to earn miles, this area shows all classes of serivce that will earn miles eg y b m h s t etc it shows what percentage of each class will earn miles, and it also states that if it is a codeshare operated by a partner airline then the rules and classes of service that offer miles will be of that airline. So if it is a codeshare one must then go to the “earn miles” of that partner airline to see what classes do in fact earn miles. Might be a little work, but then if you want the miles you have to do your homework.

  • Stoyko

    If he doesn’t keep his boarding passes, or at least a receipt clearly showing the class flown – sorry. If he keeps them, he should see the fare class on them. The airlines should have a description of what fare classes qualify for what miles. I don’t know about AA, but Alaska, Delta and United have many rules about fare classes: Some of them qualify for 50% of actual miles flown, others for 25%, others for none. And they do use the entire alphabet to denote the fare class of the ticket. They have full-fare economy, discount economy, promotional economy and what not. Generally tickets purchased through consolidators have lower or no mileage qualification.

    So, I don’t think Chris should get involved at this time. The passenger should find out the fare class he paid and confirm with the airline if that fare class qualifies for mileage. If yes, and the airlines still refuse to credit it, he can turn to Chris for help.

  • Mark K

    The fact that AA has already stated that the ticket does not qualify for miles is enough for me to vote no. I doubt any airline would refuse to credit miles/points to anyone in their frequent flyer programs just to be mean. After all, most of the miles awarded end up going unused and expiring which costs the airline nothing.

    While I agree more details would have made this clearer, you can only go with what was provided. My feeling on this one, given the multiple airlines involved, tends to be that the ticket was bought from one of the online travel sites and not from any airline directly. Many of these tickets are excluded from credit and no airline hides this fact from their frequent flyers. Most have very detailed pages that are easy to find on their websites detailing the flights you will not receive credit for and the rest have the details in the printed documentation available about their programs. I was denied credit on a CO flight many years ago because I bought the ticket from a travel agent and, even though I paid for it and not a tour package, the travel agent got me a ticket that was part of a bundled tour so it did not qualify. The mileage I would have gotten was not worth the effort to fight for so I just never did business with that agent again.

  • DJP

    I would like to know why AA says it doesnt qualify for miles.

    I do know that some flights do not qualify for miles do their class code and pricing. One example are consolidator tickets. a similar thing happens with hotel programs where if you book the stay at the super low rate say through hotwire you wont get credit for your stay.

  • Carver

    I too would be curious about not getting miles. I have yet to book a ticket from a travel agent or AA directly (, phone res, etc.) that doesn’t qualify for mileage (except a few BA-AA weird rules)

  • Chris in NC

    While I don’t think you should mediate, I’m not sure this falls into the same category as “choice of in-flight meal” or “rude flight attendant” either. Granted, La Torre has failed to do due diligence by being oblivious to the rules (ie verification that his fare qualifies) or submitting his request in writing.

    A simple reference to along with his itinerary and copies of his boarding pass should get La Torre credit, if he booked under a valid fare class. If La Torre failed to save copies of his boarding pass, then he is likely out of luck.

    La Torre may really need the EQMs and that may be why he choose the itinerary. The complaint is certainly more “valid” than petty, subjective complaints like “the food is terrible” but I still don’t think you should mediate!

  • Jesse Mendelsohn

    This is pretty simple Chris. :-)

    If he flew in a fare class on TAM that is eligible to receive OnePass miles, then he should get the miles and you should intervene. The eligible fare classes are here:

    If he flew in a fare class on LAN that is eligible to receive AAdvantage miles, then he should get the mile and you should intervene. The eligible fare classes are here:

    His letter and your post didn’t include which fare classes he traveled under, so it’s difficult to determine whether he is actually entitled to these miles.

    The gray area is that he doesn’t have his boarding passes. If he didn’t put his FF numbers properly in the reservation, getting credit after the fact without your boarding pass (which, as Beth noted, proves to the airline you actually booked and took the flight properly) will be challenging … but somebody like you appealing to the airline should help.

  • Carver

    That is not correct. One can easily get retroactive credit for a flight taken without a FF#. One can even sign up for the loyalty program after the fact and get FF credit.

    Also, a boarding pass does not prove that the OP actually boarded the plane.

    This boarding pass is just a red herring to confuse an otherwise simple issue. Either he booked a mileage eligible class or he didn’t.

  • Carver

    This boarding pass non-sense is a red herring at best. The airlines know whether or not the OP flew, which class he flew, how much he paid, what class he flew, etc. The only reason for asking for the boarding pass is to make it that much harder for the OP to pursue a claim as many people simply lose track of them after the flight has completed.

  • Jmendelsohn

    I said it would be challenging (for the exact reasons you mention). If he can prove he flew in eligible fare classes then he should holler as loud as he can to get the miles even without the boarding pass. I’m just saying it would be easier it he had it in his possession.

    My biggest point is that whether he is actually entitled to the miles is a very black and white issue (not an opinion). Did he fly under an eligible fare class as listed in the URLs in my previous post?

  • LadySiren

    Aw, Chris – quit using sensible logic on me, it’s just not fair. :)

    You’re right; the “maybe” button would likely win every time. Maybe you can do a post on what info to include when someone sends you a submission? That way, they might get enough information to satisfy those of us in the “nosy nellie” crowd.

  • Carol (Middle-aged-diva)

    I belong to FF programs for United, American & Delta, with credit cards for UA & AA. I use the cc’s for everything including groceries, so the miles build up. While I always pick the lowest cost flight regardless of airline, I’ve gotten and used almost 2 million FF miles. In fact, I visited friends in Fla. this yr and got my flight, rental car and hotel all on miles. I’ve bought two trips for my nephew using miles. I’ve upgraded trips to Europe, although that’s gotten much harder in recent yrs. I’ve enjoyed VFF status perks like early boarding and avoiding long lines. So I am a definite fan.

    I always like the idea of holding airlines accountable and letting them know someone with the power of the pen is watching over things. Even little things.I know I won’t change your opinion, but I do think maybe your bias is in the way.

  • Michael K

    Exactly. Presumably this was an electronic ticket. If they need the OP to prove that he was on the flight, the OP ought to be able to turn that around: if the airline doesn’t have proof he was on the flight, then he should be entitled to re-issue the ticket for a change fee.

  • Linda

    I voted “No” simply because if you got into mediating loyalty program issues you would just be inundated, because the airlines SO OFTEN weasel out of their commitments in this area, and because the miles, as the airlines so often state, “have no real monetary value”.

    I believe that the airlines take the position of insurance companies and try to deny claims as often as possible, especially when large amounts of miles are involved. I was personally cheated out of miles for long trips on two occasions (once to Australia, once to Singapore). Both flights qualified, and both times the partner airline had my member number before the flights. In both cases the miles failed to show up automatically. The first time I was stupid enough to not retain my boarding passes so I was out of luck in claiming them afterwards. The second time I did retain my boarding passes – when I mailed them in I was told I also needed my ticket “receipt” – on an online booking.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two situations were high-mileage, and were also the only two incidences in over 20 years of loyalty programs where my miles didn’t show up automatically.

  • Trey

    I had a very similar situation.  I bought my tickets through travelocity with one leg on united, and the second leg on Turkish airlines.  It was a turkish airlines deal from LAX to Turkey.  I also bought a ticket on Egypt airlines.  My miles are with USAirways, all star alliance.  I was able to get the miles for the united legs, but not the others.  Turkish airlines will not return any of my emails, and the phone calls are just reps yelling at me telling me its up to USAirways.  Of course USAirways says its up to TAL.  I added my FF# when i bought the tickets.  I still cannot find any documentation on any of the websites that tell me i would not be eligible for miles for the particular flights i selected.  Although, my friend whose miles are with United, got all of his miles no problem. 

    I understand that not all fare classes are eligible, but what i don’t understand is why the fare class i purchased is not listed on my ticket, and the actual fare class that is listed on my ticket is meaningless.  Its as if the actual fare class is hidden from the customer, but there are classes listed on the tickets that are bogus.  I am still working on this issue because I want my 16000+ miles!  I would never have taken those flights if i was not eligible for the miles, and my FF number is listed on each and every ticket i have. 

  • Red Guevarra

    It shouldn’t matter which website he bought them from. What matters is the “fare class letter code,” which you can see on your e-ticket confirmation, and which program you want it credited at.

    And that’s where it gets tricky. For example, a flight on LAN aircraft in “S” class earns only 25% if you put it into AA, but a whopping 100% if you are smart enough to put it into Qantas or even Alaska. Mix it up!

  • Red Guevarra

    Both Delta’s and AA’s websites (and they’re not partners) contain inventory from Alaska, which is non-allied at all. And conversely, Alaska’s site pulls inventory from both AA and Delta, although mostly for award flights.

    It happens!

  • Red Guevarra

    Amen! Look for programs that earn you 100% where others earn only a fraction.