A missing miles case offers a few hard lessons about loyalty

Every so often our advocates receive requests for assistance that we can’t accommodate. Rajiv Gupta has the misfortune to be making such a request.

Gupta and his wife, Ruchi, traveled from Chicago to New Delhi via Toronto on Air Canada. The same travel agent made their bookings simultaneously for the same price on identical flights. The outbound travel dates were different, but the return date was the same. Three of the flights were on Air Canada; the other was on United, code-shared on Air Canada. (We don’t have any information as to why they booked separate flights.)

This is a missing miles case. We may not be able to help, but we can write about its absurdity.

The Guptas, members of United’s MileagePlus loyalty program, wanted to collect mileage credit for their flights. When Gupta tried to request the miles online, he received an error report indicating that two of the four flight segments (his wife’s outbound and return flights) were not eligible for mileage credit. But the same report indicated that mileage credits for the other two flight segments (his own flights) were posted to his account. However, only the code-shared United flight had actually been credited. This made no sense to Gupta.

He sent multiple emails to Air Canada’s customer service, including one of the executives listed in our contacts section, asking that the miles for his other flight and his wife’s flights be posted to their respective United mileage accounts – a total of 14,492 miles. But no one responded for more than a month.

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Gupta then posted in our forums about his case. Our forum advocates suggested that Gupta self-advocate his case by writing to each of the United executives listed in our contacts section, starting with the lowest-ranked and giving each a week to respond before escalating his complaint to the next-ranking executive in the corporate hierarchy.

Rather than taking this advice, Gupta asked if United was engaging in legal wrongdoing by denying the miles and failing to answer his contacts. He also asked our advocacy team for help in getting the miles credited to his wife’s account.

Although it’s certainly poor customer service for a business to ignore a customer, Gupta has no legal case against either airline.

United’s MileagePlus program rules contain the following provision regarding availability of miles and benefits:

The Program is offered at the discretion of United and United has the right to terminate the Program, in whole or in part, or to change the Rules, benefits, conditions of participation, Premier (and/or Million Miler) qualification criteria or mileage levels, in whole or in part, at any time, with or without notice, even though changes may affect the value of Premier (and/or Million Miler) status levels, benefits, mileage or certificates already accumulated. …

Members of the Program (“Members”), in accumulating certificates, mileage, Premier qualifying dollars (“PQD”), Premier qualifying segments (“PQS”) or Premier qualifying miles (“PQM,” together with PQD and PQS, “Premier Qualifying Credits”), may not rely upon the continued availability of (a) the benefits associated with a Premier (and/or Million Miler) status level or (b) an award or award level, and Members may not be able to obtain all offered benefits or awards or use awards to all destinations or on all flights.

Air Canada has a loyalty program of its own, called Altitude but it disclaims all legal responsibility toward customers in the program:

Air Canada Altitude status and its associated privileges have no monetary value.

Air Canada will not be responsible for mail correspondence lost or delayed, or otherwise shall be under no obligation to continue Air Canada Altitude, or to provide any notice of its termination. Air Canada reserves the right to terminate Air Canada Altitude at any time.

Air Canada assumes no liability toward members for anything, including but not limited to, for the cessation of airline partnerships, changes to program benefits and policies, adjustments to mileage accumulation or redemption eligibility, availability of redemption or upgrade seats, definition of and/or revisions to the Air Canada Altitude qualification period or benefit year for status recognition, or access to airport lounges.

Even if Gupta had a legal case against either airline, we don’t advocate cases involving missing loyalty points or miles, as both our forum members and our advocates pointed out.

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Although we can’t assist Gupta ourselves, we hope he will take the advice offered by our forum advocates and self-advocate his case.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • Bill___A

    Air Canada’s FF plan is called Aeroplan and is actually owned by a third party, it was spun off. Altitude refers to the Elite status level reached at 25,000, 35,000, 50,000, 75,000 and 100,000 qualifying miles.

    They took separate flights on the way out, and even though similarly priced, due to various conditions, they could well gave been on a different “fare basis”. The OP needs to look at the fare codes used on the relevant flights and then check with the charts provided by United referring to code share flights on Air Canada to determine what, if any, miles are due. There are many codes now where no miles are due.

    This OP could have been better helped by being told this information. Saying the two tickets were similar in price, for frequent flyer credit purposes, is meaningless. What matters is the fare code.

    I expect that the tickets in question did not qualify for miles. Finding this out might give the OP some closure. I am surprised the reason wasn’t given when the claim was denied.

  • Bill___A

    The other thing is to write to United Mileage Plus about missing miles in this case. They will ask for proof and then confirm with Air Canada.

  • Annie M

    I believe the forum advocates explained the ticket fares to him as well.

  • Bill___A

    Thank you for pointing that out. I didn’t see much here except the usual rant about miles and loyalty programs along with not much to help the op.

  • PsyGuy

    Miles are currency the airlines mint themselves, the only legal regulations that apply are the ones the airline want’s to apply. They get to do whatever they want with their script, even the agreement as a contract specifically states the terms that the airlines own the miles. At least Air Canada was direct and to the point about the value of it’s loyalty program.

    Thank you Cris for not advocating loyalty programs.

  • PsyGuy

    That’s what I was thinking, that most of the segments flown were not point accruing segments.

  • PsyGuy

    There isn’t much help to give.

  • michael anthony

    I belong to a couple of FF plans. At least twice a week, emails come touting “earn XX miles” doing this, flying here, flying x number of times, shop here, etc. And yet, courtesy of this site, when there’s a problem, most carriers tend to wash their hands of it due to their million exclusions. In the 90s, it was all so simple. Now, it feels more like a “bait and switch”. Fees for everything, miles becoming worthless or non existent and more. I remember back when they touted Deregulation as being good for the consumer. What a joke that turned out to be.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Deregulation has been massively beneficial for the consumer. Unless you’d like to go back to JFK-LAX roundtrip minimum fares of $2400.

  • Blamona

    Was the travel agent an OTA or used an OTA for that part? (Expedia for ex). When booking thru that you don’t get points

  • BubbaJoe123

    Huh? In the vast majority of cases, you absolutely DO earn miles when booking through a TA, whether that’s an online TA like Expedia, or a more traditional TA like Amex Travel.

    If you’re booking through a consolidator, you might be on a non-mile-earning fare, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

  • michael anthony

    Never paid that, unless I booked business or first. Never even oaid that to Europe. We had a dozen carriers to choose from and maybe a fee or two. And when miles started, you booked your seat, and it was rate you couldn’t get what you wanted.

  • AAGK

    Since when does a consumer need a “legal case” to seek advocacy? I understand the distaste for points/miles cases, but often a consumer seeks a resolution based more on a sense of fairness, than an entitlement under the rules.

  • Bill___A

    But the help should be whom to contact, which would be mileage plus, and what to check, which is the mileage accruals per fare type. The rules quoted in the article re almost completely irrelevant to the task at hand, but completely in line with a general disapproval of frequent flyer programs. They are enttled to thir opinion but that seems to be more of a focus than either giving help or getting the op to realize why they didn’t get miles.

  • MarkKelling

    Before deregulation, flying was for the rich. No way would you ever have fares like Frontier charges today of $50 for Denver to Las vegas. Or the $10 fares Spirit charges. $2400 (inflaton adjusted dollars) JFK-LAX was the discounted economy fare in the 70s.

    Not sure when you started flying, but deregulation was the 70s, not the 90s. I agree there was more choice of airlines before deregulation, but only because there was no way to lose money running an airline where you were required to charge a given amount for a given route and that amount was way over the cost at that time.

  • PsyGuy

    Does anyone know why they didn’t get the miles? The LW needs to do a little bit of the advocating for themselves, Chris doesn’t need to spend his time on milage statements.

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