Missing miles on a United Airlines codeshare flight

Tom Bilek/Shutterstock
Tom Bilek/Shutterstock
Glennellen Pace and her husband are missing thousands of frequent flier miles after a trip to Australia and New Zealand. Is there any way to find them?

Question: My husband and I traveled to New Zealand and Australia this past fall. Our airline tickets, which were booked through a travel agent, were purchased through United Airlines.

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United, as is often the case, put us on partner airlines for portions of the journey. The airline made two changes to our flights before we left, and in the process they removed our frequent flier numbers from our reservations. We were advised to get these reinstated when we checked in. We tried to do this, but the agent finally told us he was unable to get the computer to take the numbers, so we could take care of it upon our return.

Upon our return, I contacted the United frequent flier phone number to get our miles credited. I ended up spending literally hours with this. Sparing you the details of that time spent, United ended up crediting us for both of our flights between Portland and San Francisco, and between Sydney and San Francisco, but has refused our miles from San Francisco to Auckland (6,531 miles each) and from Christchurch to Sydney (1,322 miles each). They told me, “Air New Zealand says there are no frequent flier miles in your fare class.”

I don’t understand that. These tickets were through United, not Air New Zealand, so it makes no sense that Air New Zealand has anything to do with this. These were United tickets, economy class the entire way. United chose to put us on a partner airline for those two legs of the journey. We did not choose or book with Air New Zealand.
We paid dearly for these tickets. We at least expect our miles to be credited. I hope you can help us with this. — Glennellen Pace, Oregon City, Ore.

Answer: If you booked your flights through United, and it promised you miles for all of your flights, then you should have received them. And yes, I agree with you — the miles are a big deal when you’re flying that far. Just a few flights like that are enough to reach “elite” status with United’s frequent flier program and to score a domestic award ticket. So every mile counts.

As best I can tell, a few things went wrong. During the schedule change, your MileagePlus number was dropped. The best way to remedy that would either be to call United or to contact your travel agent. Your agent might have fixed this for you quickly, and without you having to spend hours on the phone.

The second issue is the partner airline problem. If you booked a United ticket all the way to Australia and New Zealand but found yourself on an Air New Zealand flight for one of the legs, then your airline was engaged in something called “codesharing.” United can’t tell you that Air New Zealand won’t credit you with miles because technically, it’s still United’s flight. It is responsible for getting you the miles it promised.

I don’t normally get involved in missing miles cases, but your issue was particularly problematic. If I couldn’t retrieve your miles, I thought the Transportation Department might be interested in your case. After all, the DOT and various other government agencies give United permission to codeshare, and they might frown on an airline deferring to its “partner” in this way. You could also get in touch with one of United’s executives. I list them all on my website.

I contacted United on your behalf, and it credited you with all of your miles.