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Why Didn’t I Receive Miles for My Cheap Flight?

SmarterTravel

Dear Tim,

I recently booked a ticket from San Diego to Bombay for travel on Singapore Airlines for $1,350 through a travel agent. The airline says no mileage is available because it’s a Q class ticket. Is there any way I can salvage these miles?

Nirmala

Dear Nirmala,

Assuming that no one at Singapore Airlines misled you about earning miles for the fare in question, no, there’s no way to salvage the miles after the fact. If, on the other hand, a Singapore rep led you or your travel agent to believe that you would be credited with miles for the trip, then the airline should honor that promise, even if doing so would run counter to their own policy. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Although there’s nothing to be done to reclaim the lost miles, there are ways to prevent similar disappointments in the future. In particular, all consumers would do well to bear in mind the following caveat: Not all fare types earn miles.

Fare types should not be confused with classes of service. The latter refer to an aircraft’s various cabins—coach or economy, business, first. But for each class of service, there are many fare types offered for sale, each part of a complex tapestry of ticket prices, advance-purchase requirements, and restrictions. These classes are assigned letter codes—P, F, Y, V, M, Q, etc.—to distinguish one from the next. But they are notoriously user-unfriendly, requiring consumers to consult each airline individually, since the rather unhelpful letter codes aren’t used uniformly throughout the industry. (For a comprehensive discussion of fare types, read SmarterTravel.com’s tip.)

To oversimplify somewhat, the cheaper the ticket, the further in advance it must be purchased and the more restrictions it will have. At one end of the spectrum are the unrestricted or full coach fares, which may be purchased anytime prior to travel, can be changed without paying a penalty, and are fully refundable. Also known as walk-up fares, they are typically purchased by business travelers who cannot plan their trips very far in advance, need flexibility to cancel and reschedule, and can afford to pay top dollar to have their stringent requirements met.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the deeply discounted fares, which must be purchased in advance and are nonrefundable. As the name suggests, they are also among the very cheapest fares available. In fact, availability is generally limited.

It is this latter category that may be restricted mileage-wise, as it was in the case of the Singapore Airlines flight being discussed.

While there’s no hard and fast rule governing which airlines withhold miles for deeply discounted fares, there’s a rule of thumb that at least gives a broad sense of where problems may arise: Generally speaking, U.S. airlines are less restrictive when it comes to awarding miles for cheaper fares.

That geographic distinction reflects a combination of history (the programs have been in existence in the U.S. longer than elsewhere) and commercial culture (American cutthroat competition fosters more aggressive marketing).

To take an illustrative example familiar to many American transatlantic travelers, British Airways credits Executive Club members with a miserly 25 percent of actual flown miles for discount coach fares. But discount coach fares purchased for travel on American Airlines earn full AAdvantage miles. So if their ticket prices are comparable, as they tend to be, there’s a significant mileage premium for flying American instead of British Airways to Europe.

Coming back full circle to the Bombay trip, while Singapore awards no miles for discount coach fares, you would earn full credit for similar fares on Delta. As with the American-British Air comparison, if Delta and Singapore are price competitive, and other factors are equal, the advantage goes to Delta on the strength of its mileage offering.

So for your next overseas trip, if miles are a priority, look first to the U.S. carriers.

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