How to Earn Miles If Your Flight Is Canceled

Young woman in international airport
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Frequent travelers know that air travel doesn’t always go according to plan. Delays, due to maintenance or weather, flight cancellations, and diversions can snag plans for hours and even days to come. These can result in missed meetings, personal events, and extra downtime you weren't expecting. But, there’s another layer to travel interruptions that could cause a snag.

If you plan on racking up miles, especially those that count toward elite status, delays could pose a challenge. Only the most “trip savvy” travelers know to keep an eye out for the correct mileage amounts to post to their account after a trip. Many people forget about mileage earning once they reach their destination. You could be missing out on plenty of forgotten miles by not following up with airlines post-trip.

Especially at the end of the calendar year, it is always wise to do a quick recap of flights flown to make sure that everything has credited properly. You may find that there are some flights where you could have earned more than you think. 

If your travel plans change en route, here’s how to assure you earn the miles you were counting on during six potential scenarios.

Your flight was delayed, and you were rebooked on the same airline and routing.

In this instance, your expected mileage balance should still post properly. Just in case, keep track of your boarding pass and ticket receipt until miles post to your account.

Travel changes caused you to be rebooked on the same airline with a lengthier routing (perhaps different connecting city).

Since most airlines award miles based upon dollars spent, you will earn the same amount of redeemable miles. However, if you were routed through a different connection city and had to fly a greater distance, you are typically eligible to earn more elite-qualifying miles based upon where you flew (if you’re trying to make elite status). Keep your boarding passes and ticket receipt to make sure the new routing posts properly. Otherwise, reach out via email, phone, or social media to request the correct amount.

Travel changes caused you to be rebooked on the same airline although on a shorter routing.

This may cause disappointment if you were counting on elite-qualifying miles to make the next level of status. In this instance, miles will probably post with the route you actually flew. However, if you keep your boarding pass and ticket receipt, you can request “original routing credit” via phone, email, or social media. That language is important because agents will not realize that you were rerouted at first until they look deeper into the reservation. You are still eligible to earn elite-qualifying miles based upon the route you originally booked. 

Keeping as much documentation you can of original and new flights will help to get the correct amount of mileage you were expecting credited. 

Your flight diverted.

In this instance, you would still only earn miles on the original itinerary despite the unplanned stop. If an airline allows you to deplane and book another flight, keep the boarding passes because you may be able to request mileage for the actual flights you took.

Travel changes caused you to be rebooked on a different airline.

This is where things get tricky. Airlines can rebook passengers on another airline to get you where you need to go. While convenient, that can be disappointing if you were looking to earn miles on your preferred carrier. Keep your original ticket receipt and contact the airline after travel to get your “original routing credit.” 

You may be able to double-dip and earn miles on the new airline and also the one with which you originally booked travel. The one exception to that rule is Delta, which usually has special checks in place to refuse SkyMiles to those that were rebooked from another airline.

Travel changes disrupted your itinerary and the entire purpose of your trip. 

If you did not fly at all, you would not earn any miles although an airline should issue a refund if the delay or cancelation was within their control (a maintenance issue, for example). If you already started travel (let’s say you took the first flight of a two-flight itinerary) and a flight is delayed or canceled to the point that you miss the entire purpose of your travel (an important meeting, wedding, or funeral), you can request what is known as a “trip in vain.” First, airlines will try to reroute you on another airline or provide ground transportation, but if that is not possible, then “trip in vain” is an option. This means the airline would fly you back to your origin point at their own expense and refund your ticket since your trip is no longer needed.

This only works in very specific situations and not all agents will know how or be able to assist (reservation agents via phone are typically the best contact in this situation). Here’s an example. You fly from Boston to Savannah via Philadelphia on American. Your Boston to Philadelphia goes as planned, but your flight to Savannah is canceled due to maintenance and there is no other option that day to get you to your dinner meeting. You can request assistance for a “trip in vain,” which means the airline needs to send you back to your origin and refund your ticket price because the problem was their fault.

Language for this policy is usually found in an airline’s condition of carriage, but the policy is not clear cut. For example, here is Delta’s version. American’s contract of carriage doesn’t address trip in vain specifically but does mention delay and cancelation policies. Agents will review these decisions on a case-by-case basis, but it’s always worth a try.

If you’re refunded, you would not earn any miles although if your frequent flier number was already registered in your account, chances are some miles just appear. Shhhhh, keep them for the inconvenience!