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Do You Earn Airline Miles When You Fly Or When You Purchase?

Question: Do You Only Get Credited With Air Miles When You Fly Or When You Purchase?

This question was asked this past weekend and was something I used to wonder myself. The simple answer is yes and no, let me explain.

When you purchase a flight you can earn airline miles for the ticket itself. So, for instance you want to fly from Seattle to New York sometime in August, you buy the ticket at the current price of $419. If you pay for this ticket using your airline’s credit card you could earn double miles just on the purchase price of the ticket (not the actual flying miles). Those miles are usually credited to you before the flight.

Most airlines have their own credit card, such as Delta’s Gold or Silver American Express cards or Alaska Airlines Bank of America credit card. Purchasing the ticket using the airline’s own credit card will earn you double miles with that airline, only on the purchase price of the ticket. In this example the earned miles would be $419 x 2 = 838 airline miles.

You also earn miles from the actual flying from both destinations.

Use this mileage calculator to find out how many miles you will earn for a specific flight.

If you end up buying the ticket, but never flying the route, you earn nothing except the miles from purchasing the ticket itself. Missing your flight or canceling the flight, you lose the $419 (you keep the 838 miles), and you earn no miles from the flight. To earn miles from flying the route, you have to actually fly.

Some credit card rewards programs will give you double points for purchasing airline tickets through their rewards portals. An example is the American Express Membership Rewards portal:

If you book your flight within your account at American Express and use your American Express credit card, you will earn double points. To earn the double points you have to pay with a credit card that is eligible or enrolled in the Membership Rewards program. Since the Delta AMEX cards are not eligible, you can’t earn both ‘double rewards points’ and ‘double miles’ from booking your airline ticket through the portal, it’s one or the other.

I personally value my Delta airline miles more than my American Express points, except when American Express offers transfer bonuses. There have been multiple AMEX to British Airway transfer bonuses recently which would have given you 50% more miles with British Airways. For this one reason, if I were to buy a ticket, I would probably go with purchasing within my American Express rewards portal to gain more rewards points, I will then transfer those points when another transfer bonus happens, earning me another 20-50% more.

Since I usually fly Delta, I wait for Delta to offer a 20%-50% bonus, which hasn’t happened since the end of 2011. Here’s to hoping for an AMEX to Delta transfer bonus this year!

Have a travel related question? Send me your question and I’ll get it answered with a post on this website!

About Derek

I currently live in beautiful Alaska with my wife! Living in Alaska i have learned that it cost so much more just to travel anywhere! In order to fly anywhere it cost us an extra $250+ a ticket. We use miles and points to fly nearly everywhere for free, usually in First Class. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook or why not signup to receive new blog post via email or in RSS reader