Earning more miles than you actually fly – the how and why?

When I looked at the miles I have earned over the years, I have found a consistent trend – my earned Award miles (RQM) and Elite miles (EQM) are always are greater than the actual miles flown (BIS – Butt-in-Seat Miles). This is not unique to me, you will see this in your accounts too. There are four reasons this happens:

  1. Elite Status
  2. Minimum miles per segment
  3. Class of travel bonus
  4. Fare bonus

Elite Status:

As an Elite you will earn extra Award miles (RDM) on every flight. This can be up to 100% of the miles flown. For example, on United, Silver Elites get 25% bonus miles, Golds get 50%, Platinums 75% and 1k’s get 100% mileage bonus. So, as a 1k (100,000 EQM or more in a year) you get 2 miles for every 1 mile flown on United’s MileagePlus program. Note – these are only Award miles. There are no bonus Elite miles awarded for being an Elite.IMG_1227.jpg

Minimum miles per segment:

This happens when an airline awards you a minimum # of miles for each short segment flown, irrespective of the actual length of the short segment. For United, for example, this is 500 miles per segment, for any segment that is shorter than 500 miles. For segments longer than 500, of course, you earn the actual miles flown. It is important to note that most airlines, like United, only offer this minimum miles per segment only to their Elites. Even the lowest level of Elites (Silver on United) earn this bonus. If you fly a lot of short sub-500 mile segments, this adds up fast. One year I flew from Washington DC to Charlotte, NC (DCA – CLT) 16 times (8 round trips). The actual miles are only 331 miles. Earning 500 per segment gave me an extra 2,704 miles (both RDM and EQM) that year!

Class of travel Bonus:

As my employer is too cheap to pay for it, I very rarely fly on paid upper class – Business or First, so I very rarely earn this. However, if you do fly on paid Business or First, you get significant bonus miles for the class of travel. This can be up to 200% in First Class. I will discuss this in more detail in a later blog post.

Fare Bonus:

This way of earning extra occurs for me often. I travel for business with lots of one-way, multi-city and last minute bookings. These often get booked into full-fare or flexible-fare economy tickets. These are referred to as Y/B fares by airlines, as those are the two fare buckets they get booked into. Most airlines will give you 150% RDM and EQM for Y/B fares. This can add up fast too, especially on International flights! A fe moths ago I flew back to Washington DC from Johannesburg, South Africa, flying JNB-FRA on Lufthansa (my first A380 flight. yay!) and FRA-IAD on United. All on economy B fare tickets. And I actually flew in economy as my upgrades did not clear on either segment (my butt and back still hurt even thinking of it). The actual miles on the flights are:

JNB – FRA: 5,380

FRA – IAD: 4,081

The Elite miles (EQM) I actually earned because of the 150% fare bonus were:

JNB – FRA: 8,070

FRA – IAD: 6,121

Thats 4,730 extra Elite miles!!

(As a 1K Elite, I get double miles for every mile flown, so the final RQM miles were even more).

It is important to note that buying a Y/B fare ticket does not guarantee 150% mile bonus. They do not always work with partner flights. For example, when earning on United, more than half of its Star Alliance partners do NOT give the 150% miles. In my next blog post, I will go into details of which do and which do not.

Are Y/B fares worth it for the miles?:

NO! Do not buy Y/B fares just for the extra miles, especially with your own money. These fares are exorbitant. If you need the miles, you are better off looking for a low fare ticket that earns you regular miles and taking the extra flight just for the miles (mileage run) rather than pay what will typically be several times more to up-fare a flight you are taking to Y/B fares to get 50% more miles.


  1. @john, Why do you say that? If you have already hit the PQD requirements but need some EQM, you can do an MR.

  2. Good information, but I think more interesting topic would be “How to avoid earning less miles than you actually fly”.

  3. Upgrades on non-Y/B fares on United require co-pays, which can be pretty costly, when added up. I still think it’s better on some routes to fly on a Y/B fare, where only miles are used and no exorbitant co-pays.

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