You found a great flight deal, so you should hurry and book it right? In many cases yes, nothing makes me happier than find cheap flights (well almost!).  However, there is one disturbing trend that I am not sure has noticed.  A lot of airlines are now basing the amount of miles you get on how much you spend.  That is pretty depressing for those of us who are always looking for good deals.  However, it gets worse.  In some cases, if you get too good of a deal, you may not get any miles for your travels.

"The Downside of Cheap Flights" - Two Traveling Texans

First, I have to say that sometimes the deal may be so good, that it makes sense to forget about the miles.  You may not be a frequent flyer or airline mile hoarder, so these miles wouldn’t help you get status or a free flight.  If that is the case, then go right ahead and book that deal you found, but if you do care about miles please read on.

So my friend Courtney found cheap flights to travel from NYC to Hong Kong for our friend Ed’s wedding.  Both United and Cathay Pacific had flights for $780.  Since I’m from Dallas, I grew up flying on the American Airlines OneWorld alliance.   So I thought, I will go on Cathay Pacific and that should easily get me the 614 miles I need to make the next elite status level.  

Anisa with her friend, Courtney, in front of some street art in Hong Kong. - "The Downside of Cheap Flights" - Two Traveling Texans
Anisa with her friend, Courtney, in front of some street art in Hong Kong.

Good thing I did a little more digging.  When I looked at the details about earning miles with American’s partners, I learned that there are  8 different fare booking codes on Cathay Pacific where you get zero miles – NADA! Can you imagine flying 15 hours each way and then getting 0 miles for all that travel.  Oh I would have been fuming!

I really wanted to fly Cathay Pacific because I have heard great things, but there was no way I was going to take those long flights without getting any miles.  After searching a little more, I found the same flights I had wanted on Cathay Pacific marketed by American Airlines for about $100 more.  I wondered if I could buy the same flights on the American website and then get miles?

I had to call and ask a representative to be sure, this was too important to risk it.  The answer is yes! I would get 16K miles towards elite and million miler status and about 7K towards my mileage balance.  When I booked the flights on the American Airlines website, it confirmed what the representative told me.

So what did I learn from this experience? If you are booking on a partner airline, you need to research it before you book it!  Go to the site for the airline where you collect your miles (for me it is mostly American) and then click on the page about earning miles with partner airlines.  Find the airline you are booking on and read all the fine print.  

There should also be a table of the different fare booking codes.  Note – this is not the same as the cabin (economy, business,etc) you fly in.  Within each cabin there are multiple fare booking codes.  You need to find out what type of fare you are booking.  When you book through the airline directly, most will tell you fare booking code before you book.  If you don’t see it, I would recommend taking time to call them and confirm it.  If you are booking through a third party site, it may or may not show you, so again I would recommend asking.

"The Downside of Cheap Flights" - Two Traveling Texans

However, if you book on the website of the airline you are collecting miles with you can avoid the issue, but it may be more expensive.  You will need to do the analysis to determine if it is worth it to pay more.  You should take into consideration your budget, how many miles you will get, and what those miles will do for you (i.e. get you status).

For bargain seekers, like myself, this trend of miles based on dollars paid is really worrying.  You need to be really careful and do your research.  I know it’s a business but I really wish that airlines would reward loyal customers without penalizing those of us who try to save money.  Has this trend affected how you travel?

 

Anisa

Expert Tips:

  • Check the rules for earning miles on the partner airline you want to book.
  • Find out the fare class that you are purchasing to figure out what miles you will earn.
  • Look at the cost differential to determine whether it you should book the flight through the airline you want to earn the miles from.
The Downside of Cheap Flights
Find out what to watch out for when booking cheap flights.  You may need to do a little more research before booking.
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