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Canceled. Rebooked. Where Are My Miles?

Dear Tim,

My airline (Delta) recently canceled my cross-country flight due to mechanical problems. Rather than rebook me on another Delta flight, they booked me on American flight. They then told me that because I was now flying American, I could not earn Delta miles—even though I paid for a Delta flight. Is there anything I can do to get the Delta miles I paid for?


Dear J.R.,

This is an area where policy and practice often diverge. While such disconnects can create confusion for travelers, who typically take the airlines’ rules at face value, they can also result in an improved outcome for the affected traveler.

First, Delta was correct in denying you miles for the American flight. That’s the airline’s published policy, and the policy of all major carriers.

Because of the delay caused by a mechanical problem with Delta’s aircraft, the airline endorsed the ticket over to American. The endorsement authorized American to carry you on its own flight and send a bill to Delta for doing so.

In fact, endorsed tickets sometimes cost the original carrier more than it collected from the passenger in the first place, making the endorsement process not only time-consuming but a downright money-losing proposition. For this reason, cheaper tickets are almost always non-endorsable.

The bottom line is that endorsing tickets to another airline is an unprofitable option, and giving away frequent flyer miles, which are an expense, would make it less profitable still. In order to lose as little as possible, Delta has the policy of not giving out frequent flyer miles if a ticket is endorsed over to another carrier.

In practice, however, that policy is more of a general guideline than a set-in-stone rule.

Airlines will make exceptions to the policy on a case-by-case basis. Requests for exceptions are more likely to be successful in cases where the disruption was caused by factors within the airline’s control—including a mechanical glitch, as in this case—than in situations where the problem is beyond the carrier’s control (namely weather and other “acts of God”).

So you still may be able to get Delta to credit the miles to your account, even though you flew on American.

I’d suggest beginning with a phone call to Delta’s SkyMiles service center. Explain the circumstances to the customer service representative and request, politely, that the airline award you Delta miles for the rebooked flight. Stress that you purchased the ticket on Delta, rather than on American or another Delta competitor, specifically because you are a SkyMiles member and expected to earn miles in that program.

If the Delta rep is less than sympathetic, ask—again, politely—to be transferred to a supervisor. Continue escalating the request to higher levels of management until you’ve exhausted all your options.

If you wish to devote more time and energy to the matter, follow up the phone campaign with a letter to the SkyMiles service center. To lend the letter additional weight, copy it to Gerald Grinstein, Delta’s CEO.

Throughout, remember that you are requesting an exception to what is, after all, the official policy. And if, in the end, no miles are forthcoming, at least you gave it a try.

Good luck.

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