Maybe you owe someone a favor. Or, maybe you’re just that nice.
Whatever the reason, you’re buying a plane ticket for someone else (hopefully with a rewarding credit card). Can you earn the miles on that flight? It’s your money, after all.
Here’s a look at which points and miles you can earn as the person paying for the ticket — and the ones you won’t earn, no matter how badly you want them.
Related: The best travel credit cards of 2023
Passenger or payer: Who earns miles on this flight?
Most airline loyalty programs have multiple ways to earn miles. It could be from renting a car with a partner, shopping in the carrier’s duty-free magazine or using one of the airline’s credit cards. But what about flights — and specifically, what about flights where you paid but someone else flew?
For simplicity, we’ll refer to two individuals in this scenario: the passenger (the person flying) and the payer (the one paying for the ticket with points, miles or cash). Let’s look at who earns the miles from taking the flight.
Frequent flyer programs require the name on the ticket to match the name on the frequent flyer account; otherwise, no miles or flight credits will be awarded. This can prove tricky for those with a recent name change or even those with hyphenated last names (since not all computer systems accept these).
For example, Qantas has the following in its help center:
“Does the name on my Frequent Flyer account need to match the name on my airline ticket?
Yes. Qantas and our airline partners require name validation before crediting Qantas Points to a Frequent Flyer account. If the name on your airline ticket matches the name on your Frequent Flyer account, points will automatically be credited. If there are differences between the name on your Frequent Flyer account and the name used on your airline ticket, you may not receive Qantas Points and Status Credits through the automated process.”
Thus, the name on the frequent flyer account and the name on the ticket must match exactly. You can’t put your loyalty number on someone else’s ticket to receive miles for a flight where you weren’t the passenger.
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Even if you paid for the ticket, only the passenger earns miles from the flight. This applies to parents paying for flights for their children as well. That’s why children need their own frequent flyer accounts.
How can you earn rewards when paying for someone else’s flight?
While the passenger earns miles for flying, the payer can earn points and miles in other ways.
First, you can earn with your credit card. By using a travel rewards credit card where “flights” or “travel” is a bonus category, you can earn bonus miles or bonus points for each dollar spent on the ticket. This also applies to paying just the taxes and fees on award flights booked with miles.
Related: Maximize your airfare: The best credit cards for booking flights
Second, if you’re paying for the ticket online, you may be able to use shopping portals to earn extra points, miles or cash back. While most airlines don’t partner with these sites, many online travel agencies do. Just be aware of the potential pitfalls of booking with third-party sites as opposed to going directly to the airline.
Lastly, the payer and the passenger may be able to pool their miles together after the flight. Numerous airlines allow loyalty members to pool points, though the rules for each program are different.
Depending on which airline the passenger flies and which loyalty program the flight is credited to, the passenger may be able to earn miles from the flight and then transfer these to the payer. However, there might be a fee for this, so check the program’s rules in advance.
Related: Can I transfer points and miles between loyalty programs?
While you might feel you’re entitled to receiving the airline miles accrued when you pay for someone else’s ticket, only the passenger can earn miles from flying. Frequent flyer programs will not award miles when the passenger’s name doesn’t match the name on the loyalty account provided at check-in.
However, there are ways that you can earn miles when paying for someone else’s ticket. That comes from using the right credit card, stacking with shopping portals and potentially sharing the miles through points pooling after the fact.
Editor’s note: “Points of View” is a series evaluating decisions on which credit card to use. If you’re facing a dilemma about which card is best for an upcoming payment, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “Points of View question.”
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