Every day people come to my Award Booking Service with a few hundred thousand Lufthansa miles and want to fly a Business Class award to Europe. Or worse, they come with 20,000 Turkish miles, 20,000 Lufthansa miles, 20,000 United miles, and 20,000 Asiana miles.

The problem is that most people blindly credit the frequent flyer miles they are earning from paid flights to the airline they’re flying, racking up the wrong kind of miles for the redemptions they want to make. It seems to make sense to credit to the airline you’re flying, and of course the airline you’re flying pushes you to do this. But you shouldn’t blindly credit your miles to the airline you’re flying.

Instead, you should credit miles to the partner that gives you the most valuable miles for the flight.

For instance, today I am flying Turkish Airlines from Vilnius to Belgrade. It’s about 1,500 miles in the air.

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I could credit those miles to Turkish’s Miles & Smiles program, but that would be dumb because Turkish’s program has poor redemption values and because these would be my only Turkish miles, so they’d eventually expire unused.

Instead, I can credit the miles to the frequent flyer program of any Star Alliance carrier.

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I am active with several of these programs, namely United, Avianca, Lufthansa, Singapore, Air Canada, and Copa.

How to Credit to a Partner

You usually have five chances to credit to a partner program:

  1. At ticket purchase
  2. By phone before flying
  3. At check in
  4. At the gate
  5. After the flight

You just need to get your partner frequent flyer number onto the ticket one time at any of those stages. I hadn’t been able to input a frequent flyer number when I purchased this ticket through an online travel agency, but at check in, I was given a dropdown menu with all Turkish’s partners and a chance to input my frequent flyer number.

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 1.10.41 PMOnce added, the miles from the flight should automatically credit to the account you selected some time after travel completes.

Choosing the Right Partner to Credit to

I mentioned that I am active with several Star Alliance programs. How did I choose where to credit the miles from today’s flights?

The miles maximizing answer is to look up how many miles your journey would earn with each program and multiply it by the value you place on miles in that program.

You can google “earn [mileage program] [airline you’re flying]” to get to a page like this United MileagePlus earning table for Turkish flights:

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The cheapest economy fares earn 0-75% of mileage flown if you credit to United. With LifeMiles, you earn a few more miles with C, D, K, E, Q, and T fares. (All these letters represent fare buckets.)Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 1.20.28 PM

Most of the time by looking at your emailed receipt, you can see the fare bucket, but I actually can’t find mine. I could call and ask, but I value my time too highly to make a phone call for an extra few hundred miles.

In the end, I tried to credit to United because I hadn’t even looked up these charts until writing this post, but the Turkish online check in and gate agent’s computer both rejected my United frequent flyer number. So I added my Avianca number. Hopefully I earn credit for the flight, though I suspect my sub-$100 fare might be in buckets W, G, or P and earn me zero mileage credit. (No big deal. I actually didn’t even have to pay for the ticket because it was covered by the $250 Air Travel Credit on my Citi Prestige® Card.)

Bottom Line

Don’t mindlessly collect miles that will be of low redemption value. Don’t collect miles in several different frequent flyer programs in the same alliance when you’d be better off collecting all your miles in one account.

Put a little thought into adding a partner frequent flyer number to your ticket to collect the most and most valuable miles.

 

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