Missing miles on a United Airlines codeshare flight

Tom Bilek/Shutterstock
Tom Bilek/Shutterstock
Glennellen Pace and her husband are missing thousands of frequent flier miles after a trip to Australia and New Zealand. Is there any way to find them?

Question: My husband and I traveled to New Zealand and Australia this past fall. Our airline tickets, which were booked through a travel agent, were purchased through United Airlines.

United, as is often the case, put us on partner airlines for portions of the journey. The airline made two changes to our flights before we left, and in the process they removed our frequent flier numbers from our reservations. We were advised to get these reinstated when we checked in. We tried to do this, but the agent finally told us he was unable to get the computer to take the numbers, so we could take care of it upon our return.

Upon our return, I contacted the United frequent flier phone number to get our miles credited. I ended up spending literally hours with this. Sparing you the details of that time spent, United ended up crediting us for both of our flights between Portland and San Francisco, and between Sydney and San Francisco, but has refused our miles from San Francisco to Auckland (6,531 miles each) and from Christchurch to Sydney (1,322 miles each). They told me, “Air New Zealand says there are no frequent flier miles in your fare class.”

I don’t understand that. These tickets were through United, not Air New Zealand, so it makes no sense that Air New Zealand has anything to do with this. These were United tickets, economy class the entire way. United chose to put us on a partner airline for those two legs of the journey. We did not choose or book with Air New Zealand.
We paid dearly for these tickets. We at least expect our miles to be credited. I hope you can help us with this. — Glennellen Pace, Oregon City, Ore.

Answer: If you booked your flights through United, and it promised you miles for all of your flights, then you should have received them. And yes, I agree with you — the miles are a big deal when you’re flying that far. Just a few flights like that are enough to reach “elite” status with United’s frequent flier program and to score a domestic award ticket. So every mile counts.

As best I can tell, a few things went wrong. During the schedule change, your MileagePlus number was dropped. The best way to remedy that would either be to call United or to contact your travel agent. Your agent might have fixed this for you quickly, and without you having to spend hours on the phone.

The second issue is the partner airline problem. If you booked a United ticket all the way to Australia and New Zealand but found yourself on an Air New Zealand flight for one of the legs, then your airline was engaged in something called “codesharing.” United can’t tell you that Air New Zealand won’t credit you with miles because technically, it’s still United’s flight. It is responsible for getting you the miles it promised.

I don’t normally get involved in missing miles cases, but your issue was particularly problematic. If I couldn’t retrieve your miles, I thought the Transportation Department might be interested in your case. After all, the DOT and various other government agencies give United permission to codeshare, and they might frown on an airline deferring to its “partner” in this way. You could also get in touch with one of United’s executives. I list them all on my website.

I contacted United on your behalf, and it credited you with all of your miles.

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • deemery

    ANZ obviously still has problems. Back in ’05 we did a Star Alliance miles Around-the-World trip, with 2 segments on ANZ (LAX-Apia Western Samoa, and then onto AKL, it was the only way I could find seats using miles, even with UAL 1K status.) ANZ misplaced our luggage for -3 days- in Apia, I told them that’s where I thought they were, and asked if they could have someone check, but they refused. ANZ did the minimum required by contract for delayed bags. I’d love go go back to New Zealand, but not on that airline.

  • Kairho

    Just to clarify a couple of things. Just because a flight (on NZ) was booked through United, it is not necessarily a code share flight. Only if there is a United flight number associated with that NZ flight is it a code share; if it is a NZ flight number, it is simply a NZ flight sold by UA. Even though an airline has a marketing agreement with another, not all of the other’s flights are code shared.

    Nonetheless, United’s website clearly states: “If you purchase a ticket on a flight that is marketed by United but
    operated by another airline (known as a code-share flight), the
    operating airline determines how many miles you earn for your flight.”

  • Bill___A

    Question: Did the OP fly in a fare class that did not give miles and the credit was given as a customer service gesture? OR was the OP entitled to the miles and the airlines messed up giving them?
    I noticed a lot of schenanigans about various “non credit” earning fares and it is often a pain in the butt or very expensive to change to flights that do offer them. For example, I took a couple of flights on Lufthansa a couple of years ago and unbeknownst to me at the time, the fare class gave absolutely no credit.

  • MarkKelling

    UA does not promise you will get miles from a code share and the way UA words its codeshare information makes it sound like they never intend to give anyone any miles. Things like: you may end up in a different class than what you initially book and that new class may not award miles. Or: the class you book may award miles at the time of booking but that may change to a non award class before flying. And the best one: we can change any of this at any time with no notice. And unfortunately, it is up to the airline you fly on to assign the class of service so in the case of the OP, NZ had everything to do with them not receiving miles.

    And who advised the OP to wait until check in to have the frequent flyer info added back? This should have been done immediately when it was noticed that it had been removed. If the PNR for all flights was provided, the OP could have gone online and added the info themselves.

    I have never had any issue with getting miles from UA partners, so far. But if I know I will be flying on another airline’s planes, I always book directly with them if possible (and I usually save a few dollars that way too).

  • Alan Gore

    ‘Codeshare’ is airline lingo for “Abandon hope ye all who enter here.” The OP should count himself lucky that only his miles were affected.

  • TonyA_says

    Besides that, if the travel agent knew the clients wanted to earn full miles, then s/he should have made sure that happened.

  • TonyA_says

    I wonder if the TA sold a bulk fare?

  • ChrisFromSFO

    What a wake-up call… I have sometimes paid a little extra for a codeshare on the assumption it would ensure I get United miles and not have to deal with non-US carriers’ often restrictive rules on miles accrual. For what it is worth, American appears to have a more sensible policy … per their website:
    You can benefit from codeshare agreements by enjoying a large, global network – more flights and more destinations. Plus, travel with ease with:
    One-stop reservations and ticketing
    The ability to check your baggage and obtain a boarding pass to your final destination
    The option to pre-reserve a seat, when applicable
    Coordinated schedules for easier connections
    The opportunity to earn AAdvantage® miles based on the policies that apply to American Airlines flights. A flight sold as an American Airlines flight also earns elite status qualifying miles.

  • matthewsf

    Since so many of UAL’s SA partners don’t offer miles on the discounted economy fares, it is wise to first review the individual airlines page on United’s website under the tab of ‘earning miles.’ There you can see a listing of all the eligible fare classes that will earn you full, partial or no miles for your flight. These listed fare classes will correspond to the fare class displayed when you are searching/building your itinerary. If one or more legs are on a different airline, it is wise to check first to see if your ticket will indeed award any miles.

  • Guest

    A similar situation just happened to me this past December. I had to travel to Europe and back, so, expecting to earn about 10K miles for my United mileage account, I purchased a ticket on Star Alliance airlines (Lufthansa and Austrian). The economy ticket was reasonably priced (taking into account the low season) and it wasn’t the cheapest one. In all similar situations during the previous years, I was always credited miles in 1:1 proportion. This time I got none! After 14 days I submitted the mileage credit request via United.com — still nothing after more than 2 weeks. Only after that I checked the class of my ticket against the Star Alliance mileage credit table and realized that my ticket classes (K – Lufthansa, T – Austrian) wouldn’t earn ANY miles for United account.