When Is an Airline Mile Not an Airline Mile?

Shocked I tell you! Shocked! - Cartoon of very surprised dog

TL;DR answer: when it’s a partner mile. In 2016 a lot of airlines stopped reciprocating with partners on a mile-for-mile basis and now you can earn as little as 1/4 mile per mile flown on an airline partnering with your airline of choice.

Happy New Year! Watch this space for “Programmer Bedtime Stories” coming in the next couple of weeks. I’ll be debuting them at CodeMash on the morning of January 13th and the blog version of my decks will go live on the site around the same time.

That’s my first conference speaking booking of seven in the first half of the year. Looking at my travel plans for the first half of the year, I thought “this will be cool. I’m going to reach Alaska Airlines MVP status for the first time and before June is out.”

Then, as I was trying to figure out how long that status would last, I stumbled on an annoying fact. The miles flown on partner airlines weren’t going to count on a one-for-one basis. I knew that you had to fly 25k combined Alaska and partner miles to reach the basic MVP status, so I was already expecting the mix to make all my miles only count at 80% towards elite status. But then I found out that I could end up seeing as little as 25% of that 80% on partner flights.

The flight to CodeMash is on American and connects through Dallas. That’s 5,360 air miles. But because I’m flying a certain economy category on a partner, I’ll only see 2,000 miles, and that’s only because when I switch planes in Dallas, the flight number changes, making each leg worth the minimum value of 500 miles. If I was on the same flight number each way, the whole trip would be worth 1,008 miles, as it would be calculated as 25% of the distance between my starting and ending airports, regardless of stops in between.

On another, where I’m flying over 9700 air miles to Amsterdam, I’ll pick up around 2800 (2 of the 4 legs I get a little more because of the 500 minimum). And on another I thought would be worth 4,400 miles, I’ll get 2,200. It’s the only non-stop and worth 50% instead of 25%.

So while I’ll have flown nearly 30,000 miles by the end of June, I’ll only get credit for 18,500 of them.

Please don’t interpret this as complaining or whining. Apparently this is the new normal. I never got a chance to get spoiled with one-for-one matches and I picked all the flights on the basis of schedule and price, not the opportunity to earn partner miles at the same time. Well, except for one. I think I could have saved $20, but I would have had to fly United.

But if you’re not a seasoned frequent flyer, you recently started a job that requires travel, and you had certain expectations, you may need to revise those expectations.

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