Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Take care …. Amex Travel selling ‘non-earning’ airline tickets

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One of the strong points about British Airways Executive Club is that all fares, wherever you buy them, earn you the standard level of miles and tier points.  The only exceptions are fairly obvious exclusions such as discounted staff tickets.

Whether your BA ticket comes from, a travel agent or Expedia, you can be certain that you will get the miles you expect.  Compare this to the hotel loyalty programmes, where there is a very high chance that you will not receive anything (no points, no stay credit, no elite benefits) if you do not book direct or via a corporate travel agent.

When booking airlines other than BA, though, you need to be careful.

A Head for Points reader recently booked an expensive ticket on Delta to fly to the US.  He booked it through American Express Travel, because they were offering bonus Membership Rewards points at the time.

Our reader is a smart cookie, though, so before he booked he specifically asked Amex for the underlying ticket class – in this cash ‘V’ – to ensure that he received full miles and ‘EQM’s’ (the Delta equivalent of tier points).  This was vital as this flight was necessary for him to retain his Delta status.

All seemed fine and our reader took his flight.

He was VERY surprised to find, after the flight, that he only received 25% of the miles and EQM’s he was expecting.  This meant that he would not be able to retain his Delta status.

He contacted Delta and was very surprised to learn that American Express Travel had – with no warning – sold him an ‘unpublished fare’.  This is a ticket which is sold under an exclusive contract between the travel agent and the airline, and is sold to the travel agent at a deep discount.  Note, though, that our reader had paid the same price for his flight as Delta was charging on its own website. 

Since September 2012, Delta has refused to give full mileage and tier point credit on unpublished fares.  Many other airlines have a similar policy.

The key thing to note here is that it was impossible for the person buying the ticket to know this.  The ticket was issued in V class which is a standard Delta ticket class earning full mileage.  He paid the same price as a V class ticket was selling for on the Delta website.

A trail of emails to Delta and back have resulted in no change – they refuse to credit our reader with the additional status miles he needs to retain status.

American Express has offered to credit him with enough Membership Rewards points to make up for the miles he missed out on.  This does nothing, however, to help him retain his status.

And the moral of the story is ….

Well, if you are flying with British Airways, it doesn’t matter.  Any fare you can buy commercially will earn you the expected miles and tier points.

For other airlines, especially US, you need to be careful if you are buying a ticket when you are in need of the miles.  Buying, say, an ‘Expedia Special Fare’ may be asking for trouble, as may buying a ‘hotel and flight’ package from an online travel agency.

As this example shows, even if the price AND fare class exactly match what the airline is selling directly, there is still a risk that you will not receive what you are expecting.

Comments (26)

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  • nux says:

    BA does have unpublished non-earning fares, I have come across a few. Any BA published fare will earn.

  • Phillip says:

    So the ticket was issued in V class and Delta still refused to give V class mileage? Expedia has long sold IT fares, which should only be sold as a package with ground products, as stand alone flights! Aside from questionable mileage earning, these tend to also be more restrictive when it comes to making changes and claiming refunds!

  • jhk says:

    but when you can never use them special on long haul flights and or upgrades etc.etc. is a drama
    so they show and give you something nice but drama to use!!!

    • Brian says:

      Our old friend is back…

      • jhk says:

        yes i am back. i was very loyal to Ba but they do nothing even no reply no help no nothing. so we have changed many flights in our company to others because they offer points but with this offer you can get nothing. i do not know what they are doing. even they have a Dutch boss in the company so i had some small hope!! but drama. still i have no money back from the storm in ney york still open first class tickets, delhi drama with the plain . and each year it was about 500k turnover!!! but it seems to be no important!!! not even a sorry and i know for a sorry you can not buy anything. i need to say cx when their is a problem they solve the problem.

  • Volker says:

    Mrs Volker had to book a hotel night at short notice: Holiday Inn Express, Fully Flexible Rate. Devote HFP disciples, we used your affiliate link, Raffles. She had also put some of the notorious promotional codes in her IHG account and registered for the Big Win. I noticed that some IATA code appeared on the IHG website during the booking process and the relevant “help” question mark told us that this meant the booking was related to a travel agent.

    I assumed that this was necessary for you to get your commission. As the points did not post for a while, I had a closer look at her account and noticed that the stay was classed as ineligible – 0 points. We haven’t raised a missing points claim because of the bad experiences some readers had made when their accounts were audited as a result and free nights cancelled, status withdrawn, account closed etc.

    Is there any chance that using your affiliate link might have caused the stay to be classed as ineligible? It’s hard to imagine though. When it turned out that the Mrs had to stay a second night, I booked that for her via the HFP link again, Fully Flexible Rate. Both nights were merged by the hotel, so she received one invoice.

    • e14 says:

      No it’s not due to the affiliate link

    • Alan says:

      I’ve seen IATA codes on all my IHG bookings (I mainly booked via AA eshopping portal) and never had a problem with an ineligible stay due to the code. I’ve certainly heard though of hotels mucking things up and posting them incorrectly. My last stay had a lot of promo codes on it (15k for £100 stay) but I still contacted IHG as it hadn’t posted properly for my Big Win credit card offer. I agree there’s a small risk but it seems to be in the main folk that have done more than just using promo codes that are being investigated.

    • Rob says:

      No, nothing to do with that at all. Raise a claim, it will be fine.

  • Alan says:

    Wow, that’s mighty sneaky of Amex! Given the price was the same as Delta’s website and it was apparently deeply discounted Amex must have been pocketing a pretty penny! Very worrying.

  • James Ward says:

    I’m the traveller mentioned in this post. I wouldn’t have minded (so much!) if there had been some transparency – for example, a different booking class designation. But when I saw an identical price for what appeared to be an identical ticket and Amex Travel were offering bonus MR points…

    I only have mid-tier (Gold = BA Silver) status with Delta, but I’m looking around for an alternative program who might offer me a status match / challenge so I can retain the same benefits next year. I gather BA never offer status match, which is a big shame, so I’m considering American, who apparently do.

    In order of priority, the perks that I value most are: extra free checked bag, 100% mileage bonus, lounge access. I travel to the States in Economy three or four times a year for business, plus a couple more trips for holidays. I’d be grateful for any suggestions as to my best options.

    • Alan says:

      I totally agree, James – I don’t see what else you could have done to check given the same booking class and price! Presumably Delta just say you need to book with their website and Amex say it’s still a valid air ticket – did they admit in retrospect that it was an unpublished fare?

      • James Ward says:

        To be fair to Amex, they’ve handled the complaint with their usual high standard of service (I really rate their call centre staff). It’s just a shame that all the empathy in the world won’t help maintain my elite level next year!

        They confirmed it was an unpublished fare and they’ve even offered some bonus MR points to make up the shortfall in redeemable miles. They tell me (and I believe them) that they’ve tried to negotiate with Delta on my behalf, but had no success.

        It’s all buried away on Delta’s website, here (normal accrual rates):

        and here (unpublished fares):

        This issue won’t necessarily stop me booking tickets via Amex Travel in the future – but I’ll be calling up first to check the exact ticket type I’m buying!

        • Alan says:

          Good to hear that re Amex CS, James. From those links though I’m not sure how you could avoid a repeat with Amex (or another travel agent) given they still seem to book into the normal booking classes?

        • Polly says:

          Can you actually ask them to book you into a NON unpublished fare then?

          • James Ward says:

            I assume so. Or at least warn me so I know to book direct with Delta and be guaranteed full mileage credit.

          • Polly says:

            Bad luck for you, but a HUGE warning for all of us, I was tempted by that amex extra awards thingy when I got the email too. Hope others weren’t fooled by it. Your case is especially annoying as you had that target. Surely you can do a quick excuse trip back over the pond to get that silver ,

          • Rob says:

            But does the agent actually know? It would technically be in the long version of the fare code – the fare basis for your ticket was probably VAMEX or similar instead of VXXX – but finding the full fare code is painfully difficult sometimes.

          • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

            If you get the agent to confirm that it’s a published fare prior to sale, then you should get vastly more protection as then the service is not as described. It should then, for example, be much easier to make a claim for compensation if that lost you miles or status with an airline.

    • Lady London says:

      Have you thought about Star Alliance? You’d be flying with AC, LH,LX, TK, UA, perhaps IB, but could accrue miles elsewhere in Star Alliance and have a few choices that would pretty much get you what you want.

      Erm… maybe not American, since their dreadful announcement yesterday…. And I presume US Air will be pulled into announcing some ‘enhancements’ soon too, as those two airlines have just merged…

      I too am sufficiently annoyed about BA’s introduction of charges for changes for Golds last week, to now be open to considering another OneWorld instead. There are of course some benefits left as Gold on BA. If the remaining benefits for Gold can be matched by another OneWorld member then I’d seriously look at moving. So I will be watching comments here in case someone knows another OneWorld member that could be worth considering.

    • James Ward says:

      Seems like all the airlines are reducing the value of their programs at the moment. Maybe we just have to accept that things are not going to be as good in the future as they were in the past. It certainly confirms the truth in the advice that miles are there to be burned, not saved. They’re never going to *increase* in value, are they!

      • Rob says:

        Not necessarily true. Avios did increase in value post the November 2011 changes for many routes – Asia got a lot cheaper, East Coast USA got 20% cheaper, all European flights got £80 cheaper due to Reward Flight Saver. That is an exception, of course!

    • AndyGWP says:

      What about the AA Platinum Challenge? Fair enough, you have to pay, but depending on your first ticket / destination, you could be Platinum after just one trip. Also, time it right and you will have it for 20mths+ (IIRC).

      I also secured the free unlimited Regus membership through one of the links in Raffles earlier posts because of my status, and I really rate the 500 mile upgrades AA use, for when I’ve booked economy but fancy a 1st class internal flight / service 🙂

      More info on the Plat.Challenge is on Flyertalk (in the Wikipedia bit i think) – there is also a (slightly less beneficial) Gold Challenge for less $

      Hope that helps 🙂

  • Toby says:

    Do any other airlines also exclude certain bookings from mileage earning? It’s certainly something I need to be aware of in future.

  • littlefish says:

    As a datapoint. My corporate fare on Virgin (ie. a lot cheaper when i compared to anything published), did post according to the relevant fare bucket for Miles and Tier points.

    In terms of other Programmes. It really is a case of doing the reading and research. For example, I looked into Alaskan last week. I don’t want Lounge access (particularly), so thought their big range of partners an attraction to put loads of economy travel (across Alliances + EK) into one place. So far so good. But AF and KLM (and other AS partners to a lesser degree) won’t credit the fare buckets I’d likely travel on. Fair enough, forewarned. I can then assess the pros and cons and real earning versus my travel patterns. Simply an example, of “it depends” and “its difficult”.

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