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Why Didn’t I Earn Miles for My International Flight?

Dear Tim,

I have a big issue with Continental because of a recent trip I took on a partner airline Qantas. I was under the impression that Qantas is Continental’s partner, so I had the Qantas people put my frequent flyer number on the Qantas booking.

When I got home, the miles did not transfer over nor post on my Continental [account] as they were supposed to.

Then Qantas told me the real story—although they had put my number on the booking, and they knew I was flying an O class fare, they never told me that O class fare miles are not eligible to transfer over to Continental OnePass mile credit.

I have written to Qantas and complained about their poor customer service, to no avail. They said it was my place to learn the Continental rules.

The Continental OnePass rules are in the fine print in another page of their partner Web info, not on the partner page where you look up names of airline partners.

I wrote to Continental to complain—a letter to the OnePass director, but no answer yet.

Who can help me get some action on this matter? The Continental website was very unclear—it doesn’t say anything about O class fares either way!

How can I resolve this with Continental?

– Nadine K.

Dear Nadine,

This is an all-too-common problem.

Overseas carriers routinely exclude cheaper coach fares from receiving mileage credit in U.S. frequent flyer programs. And travelers who were unaware of the restrictions find themselves denied miles they expected to earn.

The rationale of Qantas and other foreign carriers is straightforward. Travelers buy their lowest price tickets because they’re cheap. So there’s no need to make them more attractive by awarding frequent flyer miles. And because frequent flyer miles are a cost to the airline, there’s a financial disincentive to award miles as well.

While it is common practice to limit miles to more expensive coach fares, it is not common knowledge among travelers that such restrictions exist. And even when consumers know that some fares may not qualify for miles, it can be daunting to find the restrictions, and to understand them.

In the case of Qantas’ participation in Continental’s program, the restrictions are published on the Continental website’s partner page. And while “Earn OnePass miles with standard fares on Qantas … ” is pretty vague—what is a standard fare?—the table clearly shows which fare types qualify for credit.

From a legal standpoint, then, Qantas can argue that they have done their part to inform consumers of the conditions under which they do and do not award miles.

You would think that in your interactions with Qantas staff, someone would have mentioned that your ticket didn’t qualify for mileage accrual. But in practice, customer service personnel avoid raising such potentially contentious issues, unless specifically asked.

So when appealing to Qantas, you probably don’t have a legal case. But you have some claim on the moral high ground. I would suggest you approach Qantas on that basis, hoping they are more focused on doing the right thing than on doing the legal thing.

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