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Why Didn’t I Earn Miles on My Flight With a Partner Airline?

Dear Tim,

My daughter flew to New Zealand on Qantas, a partner of American, and she expected to earn American miles. However, her ticket was “N” code for a discounted ticket, which evidently doesn’t qualify for miles. Is she out of luck?


Dear N.A.,

Yes, she is out of luck.

At the risk of compounding the confusion, there are discounted Qantas fares that earn AAdvantage miles, and discounted Qantas fares which don’t. Your daughter’s N fare was one of the latter. (See American’s website for a list of fares which qualify for AAdvantage miles.)

Generally, American carriers award mileage credit for all published fares. But European and Asian carriers typically withhold mileage credit for cheaper tickets. (A Qantas spokesperson characterized the airline’s N fares as being “about the lowest year-round fares we offer.”) Unfortunately, eligible fares vary widely among the airlines that impose such restrictions. And, the restrictions are often only communicated in the nether regions of each airline’s terms and conditions. So it’s buyer beware when it comes to earning miles for flights on non-U.S. carriers, especially when traveling on lower-fare tickets.

Which raises the question: Where’s the dividing line between cheap tickets and expensive ones?

The basic distinction is between restricted and unrestricted fares, also sometimes referred to as discounted and full fares. Restricted fares must be purchased in advance—typically 14 or 21 days—and tickets are usually nonrefundable and nonendorsable (i.e., they cannot be used for transportation on another airline in the case of a delay or cancellation by the issuing carrier). Sometimes they require the traveler to stay over a Saturday night. In return for purchasing in advance and enduring the restrictions, restricted tickets are significantly cheaper than unrestricted tickets.

Since the letter codes for the numerous available fare types are hardly self-explanatory, and are not used uniformly by all airlines, it’s easy to get tripped up trying to make sense of the alphabet soup of fare types.

The general rule is simply this: When flying on foreign airlines, mileage collectors should expect that some restricted fares probably will not earn miles, or will earn only half the miles actually flown. Knowing that, it’s always prudent to confirm whether a given fare type falls inside or outside the airline’s guidelines. That information should be published on the website hosting the frequent flyer program—American’s website in the case at hand. A call to the airline’s reservations center may be easier than slogging through the frequent flyer program fine print, though.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the restrictions in question are imposed by the flown airline, Qantas here, and not by the airline hosting the program, American. Questions or complaints should be directed at the party responsible for the policy.

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