Want Miles? Always Check Your Fare Class

If you fly a lot, chances are you are kind of obsessed with earning miles. Frequent flyers know all the tricks to maximize the value of those miles. First and foremost is to always, always fly the same airline – or at least the same airline alliance. For the past five years I would go to great lengths to make sure that every trip I take earns me the most amount of miles possible. When Chandra and I travel together, I’ll typically use my existing miles to get her a free ticket, they use cash to buy my ticket so that I can continue earning miles. All year long I remain focused on my goal of achieving 1k Status on United. I have been known to pay for for flights just to earn points, choose airlines and routings that make absolutely no sense, even take entire trips just to reach a certain amount of travel for the year. All of this is to say, that when it comes to flying, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m doing. Which is why me getting majorly screwed twice this year alone makes me so damn mad.

This is not the place to check  your fare class. It's already too late.

This is not the place to check your fare class. It’s already too late.

What is a Fare Class?

We all know categories like First, Business and Economy but a fare class goes beyond that. Every booking (not seat, booking) on the plane has a certain fare class assigned to it. You might assume that you booking a ticket on an airline means you’ll earn miles for your flight. This is not always the case and sadly, is becoming less and less likely as frequent flyer programs continue to evolve. Fare classes are tied to how much you spend on your ticket. Typically, the more expensive the ticket the more “valuable” the fare class. To make things as complicated as possible, there is no real standard when it comes to naming these classes. Each airline is free to make up their own fare classes and what they each mean. Most fare classes may be entitled to mileage, but some may only be entitled to 50% of miles and some 0%.  This is an outrage.

I Went to Turkey and Earned No Miles

Earlier this year I flew to Turkey as part of my trip to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games. I love Turkish and was happy to find a reasonable rate on Priceline.com. Because I am a slave to United Airlines, I flew Turkish specifically since they are a fellow Star Alliance member. This technique usually makes sure I earn the most possible elite-qualifying miles every time I fly but it also severely limits the airlines I consider when going anywhere. In this particular case, I could have paid significantly less to fly on Aeroflot which I didn’t even consider since they are in a different alliance.

Welcome to Istanbul. You've earned zero miles coming here.

Welcome to Istanbul. You’ve earned zero miles coming here.

After months of chasing United to give me the miles I earned by flying Turkish, I was finally told the bad news. Since my flight was booked via Priceline, the fare class was not eligible for any miles. Nowhere on my Priceline confirmations was this disclosed. Nowhere did it reveal a particular fare class. I should have earned over 10,000 elite qualifying miles for the trip. Instead, I earned zero.

New  York to Istanbul, a 10,032 mile round trip worth zero miles

New York to Istanbul, a 10,032 mile round trip worth zero miles

Then I Went to Portugal and Got Screwed Again

To celebrate Chandra’s birthday, we both took a long-weekend trip to Portugal. Once again I used my miles so that Chandra could fly free. Then I used cash to book my ticket on TAP Portugal, another United and Star Alliance partner. In this case I didn’t book through a discount site. I also didn’t get a very good deal. My round-trip to Lisbon from New York cost $819.

After months of chasing United to give me the miles I once again got the bad news. The fare class I had booked on was not eligible to receive any miles. I was livid. I’m normally pretty calm and collected in these sort of situations but I lost it on the phone with United. I had booked an expensive ticket, on a normal route, through normal channels and yet didn’t earn any miles. There were plenty of cheaper ways to get to Lisbon, but I went on TAP because they are a Star Alliance partner. I should have earned 6,732 elite qualifying miles for the trip. Instead, I once again earned zero.

Welcome abroad TAP Portugal. What frequent flyer program? We don't know anything about that.

Welcome abroad TAP Portugal. What frequent flyer program? We don’t know anything about that.


For years I have had a warm, fuzzy feeling when thinking about United Airlines and Star Alliance. As a premier member I’ve felt as if I was part of something and that I would always be well taken care of. This year has changed all that. The fact that United is changing to a revenue-based frequent flyer program next year combined with how mistreated I felt on my two recent partner-flights means I will no longer be loyal to Star Alliance moving forward. I will also make sure to always check the fare class of flights that I book even though doing so is sometimes impossible. Both my tickets to Turkey and Portugal offered no information on fare class when booking so short of calling the airline, I’m not even sure what I could have done differently.

In United’s defense they did end up giving me 3,300 miles for the Portugal flight after I complained enough. The miles were non-elite-status qualifying and only 50% of what I deserved, but I guess that’s something. Always check  your fare class!

Have you ever gotten screwed by a fare class? Rant to me in the comments.

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2 Responses to “Want Miles? Always Check Your Fare Class”

  1. Athas Nikolakakos
    July 30, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    Dave – You shouldn’t have considered Aeroflot an option even if it was part of the right alliance. We both know why 🙂

  2. Jami
    July 30, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    This happened to me years ago when I went on Cathay Airlines to the Philippines. They simply would not acknowledge the flown miles and sent me a rejection letter. Ironically last year I was traveling (usually by land or by miles) that I actually lost my United Status.