The Ultimate Guide on Where to Credit Your Airline Miles [Maximize Your Earnings]

Large Plane Soaring Across Sky

Full Disclosure: We may be financially compensated when you click on links to credit card products from our advertising partners, such as American Express, Chase, Citi & Capital One. Opinions and product recommendations on this site are ours alone, and have not been influenced, reviewed or approved by the issuer. See our Advertiser Disclosure for more details. Thanks!

In the world of points travel, people often get fixated on traveling for free. While this is definitely something to strive for, it is not recommended to use your points if the redemption is impractical or is a poor return on value.

In many cases, whether it’s travel for work or leisure, cash tickets will inevitably make their way into your wallet — especially if you’re conscientious about points valuations and saving up for premium cabin travel.

To make the most of those points, this guide will focus on deciding where to credit your paid flights to maximize value. You’ll also find clarity about the unnecessarily complicated system of different airline miles to ensure you’re getting the most out of your points.

An Introduction to Crediting Airline Miles

Here’s the key lesson to remember: just because you flew with a particular airline doesn’t mean you have to earn their miles. For example, if you fly on United Airlines, you don’t need to earn United miles; you can instead credit them to a more valuable partner such as Air Canada Aeroplan, ANA Mileage Club, or Asiana Club.

In fact, you will find that it’s often best to credit paid tickets away from the operating carrier. Before we talk about why, let’s back up for a second and discuss airline partners, fare codes, and everything in between.

Airline Partners, Booking Class Codes, & Earning Miles

Airline partners are a group of airlines with agreements that passengers can share/redeem miles and frequent flyer benefits between them. Most of the time, you can credit miles earned on a flight to any partner of the airline you flew with.

On any given flight, there are a certain number of tickets sold. Every single ticket has what is known as a fare basis code. (We’ll talk about what a fare basis code is and how to interpret the codes, but the scope of this guide focuses on booking class.)

The first letter of the fare basis code denotes the booking class, which is used by the airline’s revenue management department to control how many seats are sold at a particular fare level. The inventory of seats within a booking class is colloquially known as a “fare bucket.”

Hot Tip: Finding the alphabetic booking class is the single most important factor that determines how many miles you’ll earn. It can make the difference between earning zero miles and earning thousands of miles.

As you can imagine, a United Airlines N fare ticket (basic economy) will earn far fewer miles than a Y fare (highest full fare) ticket.

Thus, we must remember these 2 key insights:

  1. You don’t need to credit airline miles to the carrier you flew on; any airline partner is eligible in most cases. 
  2. Finding out the booking class on your ticket is instrumental to maximizing your value from paid travel. 

How to Find Out Your Booking Class on a Paid Ticket

Now that we’ve discussed the importance of figuring out the booking class you’re looking at, you’ll want to actually find out what booking class you’re considering (or already ticketed in).

Using the ITA Matrix

If you’re familiar with award travel, you’ll probably have seen/heard of the ITA Matrix, which can be used for many things, including fuel surcharge estimations. In this guide, we’ll be using ITA Matrix exclusively to figure out the booking class on a ticket you’re thinking about booking.

Let’s take an example round-trip ticket between San Francisco (SFO) and New York City (JFK) on American Airlines. Here’s what a populated search query window looks like:

ITA Matrix search input. Image Credit: matrix.itasoftware.com

Once you click Search, you’ll see a screen that aggregates the different choices and prices as follows:

ITA Matrix search results. Image Credit: matrix.itasoftware.com

Simply click on the choice you want, and you’ll arrive at the Itinerary details screen. You will see the booking class in parenthesis as shown in the red circles below:

ITA Matrix booking class. Image Credit: matrix.itasoftware.com

And that’s pretty much it. Perform a normal search on Google-ITA Matrix, and by the time you get the itinerary details, the booking class will also be displayed.

Using Fare Aggregators like Expedia

Let’s say you’re more familiar with other booking interfaces such as Expedia. It’s easy to find out your booking fare class from there too. Simply visit the homepage, and search for your desired flight itinerary.

Expedia Search
Expedia search input. Image Credit: expedia.com

After typing in your search, you’ll arrive at a screen that sorts the flight options from cheapest to highest price. For each option, you can click the blue button that says Details & baggage fees.

Expedia Results
Expedia search results. Image Credit: expedia.com

After clicking that, you’ll see the booking class is displayed just below the flight number.

Expedia Flight Details and Baggage Fees
Expedia flight details and baggage fees. Image Credit: expedia.com

As you can see, the booking class is easy to acquire from websites like Expedia.

Using Airline Websites like American Airlines

The last method we’ll be talking about is finding out the booking class when looking for tickets directly on an airline’s website. We’ll use American Airlines as an example and show you how to get your booking class from a ticket search.

AA Search Landing Page
AA search landing page. Image Credit: aa.com

After you key in your search on AA, click the Search button. A bunch of results will be displayed. Scroll to the result that you’d like details on, and click the blue button that says Details on the bottom left of each itinerary.

AA Website Search Results
AA website search results. Image Credit: aa.com

A pop-up will provide you with the flight details, including booking class for each class of ticket.

AA Website Booking Class
AA website booking class. Image Credit: aa.com

As you can see, basic economy is coded B, which is the same result that shows in the above Expedia and ITA Matrix sections.

Bottom Line: Finding your booking class is simple. There are many ways to do it, including using the ITA Matrix, Expedia, or an airline’s website. The overall process can vary slightly depending on user interface of the airline/website you use.

The Best Tool to Figure Out Where to Credit Airline Miles

Once you’ve figured out your alphabetical booking class, the next step is to figure out where to credit your flights. The process to determine where to credit airline miles is subjective by nature due to discrepancies in airline mile valuations.

Typically, the mileage you earn when crediting flights to partners is a multiplier of the actual distance flown. For example, if you flew a distance of 1,000 miles and the frequent flyer program you’re crediting your travel to offers a 150% accrual rate, you will earn 1,500 miles (150% of 1,000 miles).

One of the most useful tools for deciding where to credit these airline miles is called Where to Credit. Where to Credit is extremely helpful because it provides a simple interface for travelers to figure out where to book their paid travel.

Here’s what the homepage looks like:

Where to Credit Homepage
Where to Credit homepage. Image Credit: wheretocredit.com

Using Your Airline and Booking Class to Figure Out Mileage Earning Rates

Let’s take the example from above flying on American Airlines from San Francisco (SFO) to New York City (JFK). Suppose you wanted to figure out where to credit a first class flight on this route booked in A class. You’ll choose the appropriate airline and booking class, and then click Show me!

Where to Credit AA
Where to Credit offers a straightforward interface to help travelers figure out where to credit paid travel. Image Credit: wheretocredit.com

The results will be displayed in the following table. RDM represents redeemable miles earned, and the different tiers correspond to elite status levels, which typically come with bonus miles earned.

Where to Credit AA Chart
After performing the search, the results are displayed in a chart. Image Credit: wheretocredit.com

In this case, you’ll notice that every partner except American Airlines will earn miles based on the total distance flown. American Airlines, with the exception of special fares, will earn based on the dollars spent on the ticket.

Special fares (the top result above) means fares purchased through a specialized agent, third party, or part of a package including air transportation and lodging. For the majority of us, these special fares will not apply.

Assuming you don’t have any elite status, here are some of the options you can choose from for earning miles in the above example:

  • 5 miles per USD when crediting to American Airlines
  • 150% redeemable miles when crediting to British Airways
  • 150% redeemable miles when crediting to Cathay Pacific
  • 150% redeemable miles when crediting to Etihad Guest
  • 150% redeemable miles when crediting to Japan Airlines

Remember that in the example above, we are examining the San Francisco (SFO) – New York City (JFK) route and assuming a first class ticket in booking class A. To figure out the approximate flight distance between the 2 cities to calculate your miles, use Great Circle Mapper.

Shown below is the flight distance between San Francisco and New York City:

Great Circle Mapper SFO JFK
Great Circle Mapper displays the flight distance between San Francisco and New York City. Image Credit: gcmap.com

The one-way flight distance is 2,586 miles, while round-trip is 5,172 miles. This means that you can earn around 7,758 British Airways Avios, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Etihad Guest Miles, or Japan Airlines miles (5,172 x 150%).

A round-trip flight in Flagship First Class costs $2,050 (as shown in the previous sections), which means that you would earn around 10,250 AAdvantage miles by crediting your travel to American Airlines.

To summarize the mileage earnings on this flight, you could choose between:

  • 10,250 AAdvantage Miles
  • 7,758 British Airways Avios
  • 7,758 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • 7,758 Etihad Guest Miles
  • 7,758 Japan Airlines Miles 

In most cases, you’d want to choose earning AA miles here — though earning Japan Airlines miles is attractive if you’re planning a redemption on Emirates, for example.

Bottom Line: Where to Credit is a must-keep in your travel arsenal. Although it’s not an award travel redemption tool, it will help you decode how many miles you’ll earn, which can then be used for award travel later on. 

Using Your Route, Airline, and Booking Class to Figure Out Miles Earned

If you’re trying to figure out what your mileage accrual is but don’t want to use Great Circle Mapper, Where to Credit also has a great calculator page. To get there, visit the homepage and click the button on the top banner that says Calculator.

Where to Credit Calculator Button
Where to Credit Calculator button. Image Credit: wheretocredit.com

You’ll arrive at the following page, where you’ll enter your route, airline, and booking class.

Where to Credit Calculator Button
Where to Credit Calculator search page. Image Credit: wheretocredit.com

If you’re looking for mileage accrual rates for round-trip flights, you can add the returning route as well. Once you’ve typed in all the appropriate information, click Show me! to display results in decreasing order of miles earned.

Where to Credit Calculator Results Page
Where to Credit Calculator results page. Image Credit: wheretocredit.com

As you can see, the results match our manual calculation pretty well, with the exception of American Airlines, which is all the way at the bottom with 0 miles. This is because the mileage accrual with AAdvantage is based on the cash price of the ticket, which Where to Credit doesn’t have access to.

Bottom Line: Where to Credit’s calculator has excellent functionality that removes a lot of the manual work from calculating the number of miles you’ll earn on a specific itinerary. The results are very reliable for distance-based accrual, but it can’t currently calculate mileage accrual for revenue-based earnings. 

Deciding Which Airline to Credit Paid Flights To

Earning the Most of the Best Miles

Now that you know how to figure out your booking class and how many miles you’ll earn with your exact itinerary, you’ll want to be able to compare all your options and convert that into an actionable plan that falls in line with your personal travel goals.

This is where the subjectivity of crediting to airlines comes in. Generally speaking, there are a handful of airline miles you should be focused on earning. The miles in these programs are generally accepted to be some of the most valuable:

It’s impossible to suggest an all-encompassing rule of thumb here, simply because the earning structures will vary depending on which booking classes you’re ticketed in. However, we can say that when flying internationally on airlines such as Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, or Emirates, it is generally best to credit flights on Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.

For example, when I took advantage of the Cathay Pacific first class mistake fare (booking class A), I paid a total of $1,208 and credited it to Alaska Airlines, which earned me 48,398 Alaska Airlines miles. This flight alone earned me just shy of the 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles needed to book the same flight one-way in business class!

To help you decide based on your specific situation, here’s a great checklist to optimize your paid travel:

  1. Which countries do you want to fly to for upcoming trips?
  2. Which mileage programs have sweet spots that can help you get there?
  3. Which airlines operate these flights?
  4. Do those airlines have any partners?
  5. If so, what is the highest RDM multiplier available for those partner airlines?
  6. Credit your paid flights to a partner airline with the highest RDM multiplier of your paid travel.

Earning Elite Status

For those who are pursuing elite status, it often makes sense to credit your flights to different airlines. For example, elite status with Asiana Club and Aegean Airlines are gateways to the coveted Star Alliance Gold (which grants access to Star Alliance lounges on all flights in any class).

With Asiana Club, you only need to earn 40,000 miles over the course of 2 years, as opposed to 1 year for most other airlines. This is incredible for 2 reasons:

  1. Low mileage requirement of 40,000
  2. Longer qualification period of 2 years

This means that you only need to earn 20,000 miles per year to earn Star Alliance Gold! If you credit your paid United Airlines in economy booking class V (75% RDM), you’ll need to fly just 26,667 miles per year, which is doable in a single, multi-country trip on Star Alliance carriers.

Asiana Club Qualification
Earning Asiana Diamond, which is equivalent to Star Alliance Gold, is possible using semi-discounted economy booking classes with 1 multi-country trip. Image Credit: gcmap.com

However, Asiana Club offers 125% RDM on D tickets, which is discounted business class. This can go a long way, especially if you’re flying on behalf of your employer. In any case, figuring out the best way to credit airline miles can be affected by your desire/motivation to achieve elite status.

Some of the most advantageous elite status avenues are with unconventional airlines, such as Asiana. Crediting your miles to these airlines enables you to get elite status without investing in paid tickets on that specific airline.

How to Credit Your Miles to Partners

Once you’ve decided which airline to credit your travel to, the way to actually earn miles on your travel is very simple: enter the frequent flyer program number and select the program you want to credit to when booking your flights.

For example, if you’re booking travel on United Airlines, you’ll find an area that allows you to enter frequent flyer information. Usually, your MileagePlus information is filled in by default, but you simply change the selection and enter the new loyalty number you want to earn miles on.

Hot Tip: If you get an error when trying to enter another program’s loyalty number, you’ll have to call the operating airline over the phone and manually book/enter the information.

Final Thoughts

In this guide, we went over the exact protocol to find out your booking class, the earnings for your booking class, and the best ways to apply these lessons learned to optimize your travel. All in all, there are tons of ways to credit revenue tickets to airlines.

Most travelers don’t maximize these opportunities, and many of them get stuck with a small balance of many different airline miles, which ends up being useless. But by crediting all your paid travel to a select few airlines, you’ll be able to see your mileage balance pile up in no time!


FAQ

How do I credit travel to an airline partner?

If you haven’t booked the ticket yet, you’ll want to do everything the same as booking any other ticket — just except enter the frequent flyer information of the booking program you want to accrue miles on.

What are the best miles to credit paid travel to?

Some of the best choices to credit paid travel to include:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Air France/KLM
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA)

Can I credit paid travel to airlines after the travel is completed?

Yes! Different airlines have different periods of retroactive credit that you can use. For example, United Airlines MileagePlus allows up to 12 months after your travel is completed to submit retroactive credit.

Can I earn elite status from crediting my paid travel to airline partners?

In some cases, you can! You can credit paid travel on Star Alliance carriers to Asiana Airlines to fast-track your qualification for elite status. If you’re looking to qualify for Star Alliance elite status using United Airlines, you’ll also need to meet elite qualifying dollars, elite qualifying miles, and/or elite qualifying segments.

What is crediting airline miles?

When you pay for an airline ticket, you typically earn some airline miles. Crediting airline miles is the process of selecting which airline you want to earn miles on. The airline you select must be a qualifying partner of the one you will be traveling on.

What is a booking class?

A booking class is the identifier used by the airline’s revenue management department to control how many seats can be sold at a particular fare level. There are many different booking classes on a given flight, and each of these are subject to different rules, prices, mileage accrual multipliers, and more.

These are the most “common” booking classes known colloquially:

  • F – Full fare first class
  • J – Full fare business class
  • W – Full fare premium economy class
  • Y – Full fare economy class
Stephen Au

About Stephen Au

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Stephen has been privileged to enjoy many premium cabin products and 5-star hotels. A petroleum engineer by trade, Stephen caught the travel bug in college when he traveled to Asia several times. After 2 years of continual promotions in a six-figure job, Stephen quit his safe and secure career path in favor of entrepreneurship.

Advertisement

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees

Disclaimer: Any comments listed below are not from the bank advertiser, nor have they been reviewed or approved by them. No responsibility will be taken by the bank advertiser for these comments.

12 comments

  1. Dick MacGowan · July 10, 2019 · Reply

    I want to fly on Korean Air but having trouble finding the system to transfer AMEX points to my Skypass account——-any suggestions?

    • Stephen Au · July 11, 2019 · Reply

      Hey Dick,

      You can’t transfer AmEx points to Korean Air SKYPASS. You can only transfer Marriott points. Another option you have is transferring to Delta and booking business class via Delta SkyMiles. Thanks for reading.

  2. don sommer · July 11, 2019 · Reply

    I didn’t list my frequent flyer number on my last trip. How do I get credit on Air Canada and Lufthansa?

  3. Will Shrop · July 16, 2019 · Reply

    Wow, great article. Did not know this.

    Question: I was looking at Where to Credit, and for Korean Air Skypass it says “Incheon-Dallas Routes.” This was for an AA B & N class ticket. Do you know what that means exactly?

    • Stephen Au · July 16, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Will, thanks for reading!

      That terminology means that you can only accrue those specific miles on selected routes. In this case, you can only credit flights to Korean Air SkyPass if it is a ICN-DFW flight.

  4. Hi Stephen,

    I really appreciate the article! I had a quick question regarding playing around with the site as it seems too good to be true. Here’s my example trip: https://www.wheretocredit.com/calculator#RDU-YYZ-AC-Y/YYZ-HKG-AC-Y/HKG-YYZ-AC-Y/YYZ-RDU-AC-Y

    Essentially flying from RDU to HKG Round trip (economy class) via YYZ on Air Canada would earn me 25k United miles. The cost on Google Flights right now for that trip is around $582. Thepointsguy values those miles around $325, which is an insane return. Am I entering everything in correctly?

    Thanks!

    • Christine Krzyszton · July 29, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Mike. I tried to duplicate the fare you found on Air Canada from RDU to HKG in economy and when I found the $582 fare, it was a fare class K. You entered a fare class Y into the “Where to Credit” tool. I would re-check your fare class as it appears you’re using a full fare class Y and I don’t believe that is the correct one.

      • Thanks Christine! I will pay more attention to fare class while playing around.

  5. Charlie · July 31, 2019 · Reply

    Hello Stephen,
    Thanks much for the great article, I’ve never seen this covered anywhere else! Seems like this would be great for booking a great sale fare on a airline that credits miles based on the paid fare (where using an award flight doesn’t make sense) and crediting the miles to a distance based program. Don’t suppose it would work to get miles for award flights!
    Thanks again for something new to play with!
    I am starting to plan a Round the World award trip through ANA. This might really help get status with them. I’ve never flown with them and would be transferring all the points in with Membership Rewards.

    • Christine Krzyszton · August 9, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Charlie. Thanks for your kind words. You are correct that you cannot earn elite status miles when flying on an award ticket.

Any thoughts or questions? Comment below!

Email needed if you'd like comment updates. It will NOT be published.

Advertiser Disclosure

Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which we receive financial compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). However, the credit card information that we publish has been written by experts who know these products inside out, and what we recommend is what we would (or already) use ourselves. This site does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers that are on the market. For more information on our advertisers, see here.