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Who gets the miles when you buy the tickets?

Imagine that you are taking your entire family on a vacation together. As resident travel planner, you whip out your credit card and buy plane tickets for yourself, your spouse, your parents, and your kids. But who gets the miles? The rules of the frequent flyer game can often be confusing, leaving travelers to wonder whether the buyer or the flyer gets the miles, or if children can even earn miles at all. Allow us to clarify the rules.

More frequent flyer tips:

How to ensure you get the miles you deserve

Three tips to keep your miles from expiring

In short, you can only earn miles for your seat. American puts it succinctly in its program details: “Mileage can only be accumulated one time per flight, regardless of the number of seats purchased.” United’s member guide concurs: “A member may not accrue mileage for the utilization of services, whether air transportation or otherwise, by any other person, animal, object, or entity.” This means that not only will you not earn miles for Grandpa’s or Cousin Joe’s travel, you will also not earn extra miles if you have to buy an extra seat for yourself or an oversized item, such as a cello.

Family members can either provide their own frequent flyer account number or forfeit the miles. Kids who have their own seat can sign up for their own account, regardless of age. The only complication is if you’re flying with an infant. Delta states that “infants (under age two) must pay an applicable infant or child fare to occupy a seat in order to accumulate miles,” while Northwest stipulates that infant fares will not earn miles. It’s best to call your airline prior to travel to determine whether you can open a frequent flyer account for your infant.

The only other traveler who could garner you extra miles is your pet. Through April 30, you can earn one Continental OnePass mile for every dollar spent to transport Fluffy or Rover via Continental’s PetSafe service.

If you do want to maximize your miles when you buy tickets for other travelers, you can pay with a mileage-earning credit card. You’ll earn one, sometimes two, miles for each dollar spent. Consider it your commission for playing travel agent for your friends and family.

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