Is This The Most Miles Ever Earned For A Single Ticket?

Over the past few years we’ve seen the major US airlines adjust how they award miles. For the most part they’ve gone from awarding miles based on distance flown, to awarding miles based on dollars spent. This new mileage system also leads to a net reduction in miles issued, because airlines figure that they can fill planes without offering generous loyalty programs.

However, the changes in mileage earning aren’t the same across the board. Those booking cheap tickets are in many cases earning a small percentage of the miles they previously earned. Meanwhile those on full fare and premium tickets have largely seen a big boost in their mileage earning.

The catch is that the “big three” US airlines award at most 75,000 miles per ticket, regardless of how much the ticket costs, or what your status is. In other words, American:

  • Will award miles for the first $15,000 spent on a ticket for a non-elite member (since they earn five miles per dollar spent)
  • Will award miles for the first ~$6,800 spent on a ticket for an Executive Platinum member (since they earn 11 miles per dollar spent)

That’s an odd system, since in this case airlines are penalizing elite members. Elite members earn mileage bonuses, but for expensive tickets those are capped, so a non-elite member and an Executive Platinum member on a very high fare would earn the same number of miles.

All of this brings me to an email I received from a reader, where he shared how many miles he earned for a single roundtrip ticket. The headline of the email was “most award miles on a single round-trip?” and when I saw that I instinctively thought he must have earned 75,000 miles.

Nope, this reader earned 172,261 AAdvantage miles for a roundtrip business class ticket from Philadelphia to London.

WOW!

So, how did this happen? American had sent out a targeted promotion offering triple miles on paid first and business class tickets through early July. He registered for the promo, totally forgot about it, and then needed to go to London for work, and his company booked him on American both ways without him prompting them.

He only remembered about the promotion when he returned home and saw how many miles he had earned. Here’s the fare breakdown:

 

Interestingly it looks like he earned this many miles without having even reached the max of 75,000 miles per ticket (before the triple miles promotion). He’s an AAdvantage Gold member, so since he earned 50,665 base miles, that means his ticket cost around $10,133 before taxes and fees. It makes me really sad to think about companies spending that much on a ticket on American (then again, it’s not like there are any great options nonstop between Philadelphia and London). I think that also explains how airlines are making money on transatlantic flights in spite of transatlantic economy fares being so low. Just a handful of people booking those kinds of fares can lead to a flight being very profitable.

So yeah, I think 172,261 miles is the most I’ve ever heard of anyone earning on a single ticket. That’s enough miles for a roundtrip award ticket in Japan Airlines first class between the US and Japan. That’s pretty incredible.

Has anyone ever earned more miles for a roundtrip ticket?

Comments

  1. ” It makes me really sad to think about companies spending that much on a ticket on American (then again, it’s not like there are any great options nonstop between Philadelphia and London).”

    Lucky, without business travelers (like your reader) paying real fares, none of what you enjoy (premium cabins, frequent flier programs, miles, points) would exist, so you should be extremely happy that corporations are willing to pay cash for a product.

  2. Its quite simple. Miles earned on these tickets should be property of whoever paid for the ticket – not the flyer. Or if not that, taxed as income.

    *cue all the work flyers crying once airlines/IRS figure one of those out*

  3. The 75,000 limit is also annoying because you can sometimes just book one-ways for the same or similar cost to get around that limit that could otherwise reduce earning for a roundtrip booking. I’m going to Europe for work later this summer and the flight is $8,300 RT so as a top-tier elite I’m limited to the 75k miles. Unfortunately on this trip booking one-ways is more expensive than the combined roundtrip but if I had been able to break it in half I certainly would have to get my combined miles >75k.

  4. I just hit the cap on a flight yesterday for the second time ever (I’m Global Services on UA). I really don’t understand why airlines would penalize elite fliers in this way — you’d think they’d be happier the more expensive my ticket is. Instead, being EP on AA, I’m encouraged sometimes to fly UA one way and AA the other on a trip when I otherwise might have just bought a r/t on UA. Or if it’s an expensive ticket, I might earn just as much on DL (despite only being Platinum) if I’d hit the cap on all three airlines — the cap eliminates some of my incentive to fly the airline that offers 11x for my status when 8x or 9x on another airline gets me to 75K anyway.

  5. @Bob – this is a huge incentive for individuals that have to fly a lot for work – I certainly would avoid traveling as much as I do if I couldn’t keep my miles and points. It’s an easy way for corporations to reward their staff for additional burdens on our personal lives. As for the tax angle, miles and points are not cash and should never be considered fully equivalent so how would you propose taxing them? Given the number of restrictions on their use and the variation in how much they’re worth depending on the deal of your redemption this would be near-impossible.

  6. @Bob

    That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard all day. If I’m spending 10 hours of my time, each way and without pay, to get to a place to do work for my employer, not to mention spending days away from friends and family, you can bet your ass I’m keeping my points as some sort of conciliation prize.

    And if my employer wants to keep the points, then they’re either going to pay me overtime for the time I spend in the air, or they can get someone else to do their dirty work.

  7. *cue all the work flyers crying once airlines/IRS figure one of those out*

    Congressman and Senators keep all the miles they get flying home to their districts x times per month. My bet is you’re going to be waiting a long time for a crackdown.

  8. Bob’s a little salty he can’t take his employee’s miles from them. He probably also wishes 15 minute required breaks could be unpaid.

  9. The catch is that the “big three” US airlines award at most 75,000 miles per ticket, regardless of how much the ticket costs, or what your status is.

    What could possibly be the rationalem for that? If someone wants to buy a refundable international first class ticket 6 hours before boarding why wouldn’t the airline want to reward that?

  10. Does anyone know if they limit you to 75,000 miles if you book a oneworld Round the World ticket and credit to American?

    I am looking to do one next year and that would e a huge bummer.

  11. I think the interesting part (assuming I am reading this right) is that he had only flown 3,500 miles on AA prior to that trip, but was smart/lucky enough to register for that promotion.

  12. @Bob – There are programs for businesses to earn rewards as well. DL SkyBonus, AA Business Extra, UA PerksPlus. This is in addition to any rewards by payment.

    As far as any tax obligation, I believe points and miles technically have no cash value.

  13. Rob,

    The “Million Miler” indicates how much million miler credit he is earning for each leg, not his total million miler balance. American counts actual miles flown, not EQM (which benefit from fare bonuses) for Million Miler status.

  14. @Rob – That’s not the million miller balance, that’s the number of miles credited towards million miller status.

  15. @Bob, I’m afraid to say, is right in theory…..to PURCHASE 75,000 miles even when miles are on sale would cost 1500 bucks or so…and so there is significant monetary value to what the airlines are giving away in rewards that in principle should be taxable….As a practical matter, it would be simply too much hassle for the IRS to assign value and then collect the taxes….especially since miles are a currency that the airlines can devalue at any time.

    But Bob’s comments do highlight an important reality of the airline business…..The airlines are giving rebates to the flier (on the theory that he or she has influence over spending) even though high-value tickets are almost always paid for by a business and almost never actually paid for by the person doing the travel…..This is a mild form of kickback that in a different context (say a contractor giving a little something extra to the city government official making the choice between competing bids) is highly illegal.

    In this context, the kickback is considered a nice perk for the business traveler and a major part of business strategy for the airlines.

  16. Impressive. Back in 2008 when the economy tanked there were a ton of bonuses. I think I ended up with Chairman Preferred on US Airways and only actually flew 40,000 of those 100,000 miles required for the status. That was when I realized I’m glad I don’t actually how to fly for a living. Even 40,000 miles seemed like a ton to me.

  17. I wish there was a way where the employees had an option to fly coach and get to keep the extra cash that would have been spent on a business class ticket (or maybe even a fraction of it).

    I am a consultant and I travel all the time and feel bad for our clients who have to shell out the money for our travels.

    Worst is when we pay $700 (plus gas and tolls) for hertz for a week, if only they would give me an extra $700 a month and I would happily drive my car everywhere! lol

  18. @Bob

    Companies have different policies when it comes to business travel for their employees. My employer for example keeps all credit card “points” and earnings since they only reimburse charges to the corporate card. I think this is more than fair since as you stated, ultimately they are paying the bill. However, since I have a choice as to which Airlines, hotels and rental car companies I utilize, I don’t believe it is wrong to be rewarded for my loyalty in the form of status, miles, etc. I am ultimately the one who has to utilize these services, not my company.

    Taxes on points/miles earnings are not realistic for the multitude of reasons stated above.

  19. @John is right. This is basically a kickback. The revenue based earning also gives employees incentive to spend more money on the same flight. I think you could probably find employees who intentionally book at the last minute to have a more expensive ticket.

    The airlines know what they are doing on this.

  20. I travel all the time and feel bad for our clients who have to shell out the money for our travels.

    Why do you feel bad for them? If they didn’t get more out of it than they paid they wouldn’t do it.

  21. @John – the mules are just a discount/rebate. But the thing is that it can only be used on that airline.

    On their financials – the miles airlines issue are listed on as deferred revenue (which is a liability item on the balance sheet). It is still considered something that the customer has paid for and sits with the airlines.

    Even though the airline miles show in your account, it is actually the airline that owns it. Unlike a bank, where the money belongs to you even though it is with the bank, the airline miles you cannot withdraw from your mileage plus account and do whatever you want with it.

  22. I think you could probably find employees who intentionally book at the last minute to have a more expensive ticket.

    Oddly, I’ve had a number of clients insist on last minute bookings. I guess they just liked the flexibility.

  23. What saddens me is how horribly out of line this is with the ostensible purpose of frequent flier miles. Airlines do this because they hope to tinker at the margin — people who may or may not book with a particular airline. Rewarding miles strictly on the basis of price shifts massive amounts of marketing spending to corporate customers who — by and large — have contracts or otherwise exhibit inelastic demand. Someone flying on a $10k tatl ticket is NOT on the margin of booking with another airline. Awarding triple points for such a last-minute ticket just compounds the waste. I mean, good for him! But, my goodness airlines have truly made a mess out of this.

  24. “or they can get someone else to do their dirty work.”

    This the American hypocrisy. We bomb people because they don’t like our way of life and then we stop people at borders threat want to join our way of life.

  25. @Garrett, don’t flatter Bob, he’s not a business owner. No business owner would call for increased taxation, if the IRS did tax frequent flier miles, that would mean they would have to tax those business owners accrue for their company travels. Leftists are the ones who want increased taxation and there are virtually no leftists who know how to run a business.

    More like Bob is jealous of all those skilled professionals who worked and earned their way to get where they can fly last minute business class flights on someone else’s dime.

    Some companies do choose to claim the miles of flights they pay for, which is their right. When I was with one of them, I just simply did not register my FF# and thus no miles were awarded when I flew for work. Some airlines have a dual system, like Emirates, they have business rewards that work like miles when you buy flights for business, and the owners keep those rewards while employees can keep their miles.

  26. Someone flying on a $10k tatl ticket is NOT on the margin of booking with another airline.

    Of course they are. Anyone who has a job where their skills warrant paying $10k just to get them where they need to go has a lot of pull.

  27. My east coast employers wouldn’t have sprung for Biz no matter the cost. Our rule was that we only got Biz on flights where one or more legs were at least 8 hours. Our European HQ was in London and even if we were going to Germany, we’d have to meet up at the London HQ beforehand.

    Of course, they couldn’t weasel out when I had to go Argentina, Australia or Asia.

  28. Lol @
    More like Bob is jealous of all those skilled professionals who worked and earned their way to get where they can fly last minute business class flights on someone else’s dime.

    Yes very jealous at the poor suckers who have to take time away from families and on weekends spending every night at the same chain hotels, working on yet another spreadsheet to make money for the boss.

    You could not pay me enough to fly for work or work after work hours.

  29. “You could not pay me enough to fly for work or work after work hours.”

    No need to worry about that, Bob, nobody will be paying you for anything lol. Except maybe your state welfare office.

  30. @Bob

    If employer start claiming miles, then I might as well bill them overtime for time I spend on the road and the weekend time that I miss out.

    Can I also bill extra for having to get up that much earlier to catch a 5am flight?

  31. @Bob, you sound like a very, very jealous individual. That is not a fun way to go through life. It’s never too late to change. For your sake and everyone around you.

  32. This reader should have sent his story to TPG instead of OMAAT and netted a $200 gift card for his “success story”!

  33. everyone getting mad in the comments is dumb in their own special way but i think the winner is the guy shrieking about how people who aren’t conservative never succeed in business. that guy is the real mvp.

  34. the kick back is a problem if the employee (who is not paying) can choose or influence the choice of flights and flight cost paid by his employer. because then it is simply a bribe.

    But I guess most companies have found certain rules to avoid the most egregious misuse, while seeing the rest as some form of employee incentive.

    In our example, the employee made it clear that his company booked him on AA without his input.

  35. Some companies do choose to claim the miles of flights they pay for, which is their right.

    No, they don’t. There is no way for someone other than the flier themselves to claim the airline’s frequent flier miles. You may perhaps be confusing these miles with the ones earned from the credit card company (which the employer would claim by requiring the purchase to be made on a company credit card) or with the secondary business programs that some airlines offer in which an additional award of miles is made to the business account owner. But the majority of the miles earned go to the flier and no one else.

  36. There seems to be this ignorant perception that flying for work is some sort of free ride and we road warriors should be taxed on our “benefits” or forced to forfeit the perks. After you fly over 100,000 real miles per year, you may not feel like the benefits outweigh the task. It’s hard physically, it’s hard for families and it’s a real time waster, especially during delays and cancellations. My colleague is CK and he gifts all his miles to family or charitable concerns, as he stays as far away from airports as possible while not working. It would be a double hit to be taxed on the “benefits,” of flying.

  37. my employer pays for business class transatlantic, transpacific, transcontinental, etc. for any employee. folks have hundreds of thousands (even millions) of miles with no time to redeem for pleasure – no one is arbitraging last minute tickets for more miles. folks care about flexibility.

  38. The actual IRS ruling is that FF miles are a discount and therefore not taxable. Sort of like getting a coupon for Coke is not income. The issue is that the discount is to the payer of the Coke or the ticket. Technically it is income and will be at more risk with IRS interest next year when certain perks are no longer tax deductible to the employer. I. E. Free lunch in the cafeteria tax treatment to the employer changes under the recent Trump tax changes. IMHO when I was traveling 26 weeks per year I knew it was part of the job and didn’t expect anything beyond my salary and benefits. Any perks and awards were gravy, not why I took the job. And I’d have kept it without the miles/points. Maybe I’m just dumb for taking the job I wanted.

  39. Maybe I’m just dumb for taking the job I wanted.

    Depending on where you were going those 26 weeks the points could have converted into $20k worth of tax free travel. If that didn’t enter into the equation then that is very odd on your part.

  40. It wouldn’t be too difficult to administer as a taxable benefit. The miles/points don’t have a dollar value but the redemptions do. The IRS could demand all loyalty redemptions to be taxable in the hands of the recipient and require the submission of a form when the market value exceeds a certain threshold much like they do with W-2G for lottery winnings. The recipient would still be required to disclose and report all redemptions.

  41. As a self employed professional I would never spend over $10,000 for biz class on transatlantic flight. The corporations waste shareholders money. One can get the same value on this route for less than $4000.

  42. One can get the same value on this route for less than $4000.

    Not if you need to leave tomorrow morning.

  43. Why is Bob on this particular website? Bob, why are you on here? He has stated: “You could not pay me enough to fly for work or work after work hours.” You are simply too cool for the rest of us.

  44. Here is my view regarding Bob’s comment. I both agree and disagree with what he is saying. I was a road warrior for years racking up elite status on airlines, rental cars and hotels. I missed a lot of time with my family including my children. My two oldest children who are adults now have some resentment. Because of this I no longer travel for business and am able to spend a lot of quality time with my youngest child. On the other hand for those road warriors currently out there they deserve every perk given to them. They are missing out on a lot of things and business travel is not all fun and games. A lot of loneliness, stress and sleepless nights. I have flown hundreds of times and still cant sleep well on an airplane. Companies would lose a lot of good employees if they chose to keep all of the miles and other fringe benefits. Something to consider Bob or maybe you simply only care about the bottom line and to hell with employee morale and retention.

  45. @ J

    A lottery win is taxable? Presumably the cost of all those losing lottery tickets should therefore be a tax-deductible expense?

    “What’s sauce for the goose, etc…”

    If FF miles became taxable I would choose to fly on airlines which did not offer any. Cash is always preferable to points held by companies who have histories of overnight devaluations.

  46. @The Nice Paul

    Yep losing lottery tickets is indeed a tax-deductible expense, if you do all the paperwork of course.

    I sincerely doubt most people who buy lottery tickets is capable of doing this.

    From the Turbotax website:

    Keeping track of your winnings and losses

    The IRS requires you to keep a diary of your winnings and losses as a prerequisite to deducting losses from your winnings. This includes:

    lotteries
    raffles
    horse and dog races
    casino games
    poker games
    and sports betting

    Your diary must include:

    the date and type of gambling you engage in
    the name and address of the places where you gamble
    the people you gambled with
    and the amount you win and lose

  47. In theory, FF miles should only be taxable if you got them through your work. Some of the comments are confusing FF miles earned on flights bought by an individual, with FF miles earned on flights earned through employment.

    @Howard, your comment is exactly the reason why FF miles should be taxed — if your employer paid you overtime, that would be taxable income, so if they are giving you FF miles in lieu of overtime, that should also be taxed. Fortunately the exchange is not so overt. If your employer paid your rent instead of overtime, no one would argue that the rent payment wasn’t taxable to you (and if it wasn’t, everyone would ask their employer to pay their rent, car payments, kid’s college tuition).

    @jetset, your argument is basically its too hard, so we shouldn’t do it. That was also an argument for not going to the moon. The IRS has figured out to tax employee stock options, which also have tons of restrictions, so I’m pretty sure it can figure out how to tax FF miles if it was tasked with that.

  48. @ AK:
    “I wish there was a way where the employees had an option to fly coach and get to keep the extra cash that would have been spent on a business class ticket (or maybe even a fraction of it).”

    I’ve seen this before. The employer will say, either I fly you business to Melbourne or economy and you keep 4-5k.

  49. Funny you said about sadness on spending that much money on AA business class. That is how I feel every month when my company spends that money for me to fly Delta from MSP to LHR. I get 75,000 miles every trip but it is not worth that much money for the old planes, cheap wines and bad food.

  50. @Santastico – it costs over $100K to fly a widebody one way from MSP to LHR. That’s what your $10K roundtrip fare (or $5k each way) is going to pay. Everything else is just incidental. Yes, it actually costs a LOT of money for Delta (or any other airline) to fly a flight on a transatlantic leg.

  51. @Jason: agree 100% with you but it costs also a lot of money for Lufthansa, Singapore, Cathay, Emirates, etc.. to fly their planes and I would rather pay $10k to fly on their planes than Delta, AA and United.

  52. @Santastico – fair enough, but those carriers dont fly from Minneapolis to London. For the time sensitive biz person who needs a nonstop flight, often times they have no other choice, and their employers will pay. Similarly, Delta is one of only 2 carriers that fly nonstop from the US to Johannesburg. Delta can command a very high price for J tickets on that route and people pay it because it’s the quickest, even though their service isnt the best. Same situation here. And honestly, LH biz, though I like it, isnt the best. Its’ fine, and I woudnt go out of my way to fly it if there were a more direct route elsewhere.

  53. @Antonio

    Airlines don’t do that.

    That’s like saying, “Why not create a fare that disallows a checked bag, awards less miles, takes away seat selection, boards last – and reduce the cost of flying…”

    They created that (basic economy) and just raised the cost of the “better” fares. Airlines don’t take away things and reduce cost, they take away things and keep the price the same, or charge more to get what used to be included.

  54. @John
    Those frequent flyer miles don’t factor into my choice of a job because my career is more important than a few miles, I’ve got millions of miles I have no time to use AND because (as other have noted) flying for business sucks. Doing a good job at a job you love will earn you way more than $20K in incremental salary per year (or even $40K if you want to discount it for taxes). I’ve been all around the world on business and in most places have seen the airport, hotel, office or factory and some restaurants. It’s not at all glamorous. And, domestically, if the upgrade doesn’t clear it’s in coach. I’m more likely to factor in the hassles of traveling and being away from my family as a negative than the miles as a positive when considering a job.

    Also, @John, corporate travel programs have rules. You can be an EVP and the company will pay $10K to send you business class to Europe, but they’ll still tell you what airline you have to fly to get there and make you take your intra-Europe flights in economy. And, you know what else? That corporate travel policy probably puts the engineering tech who needs to fix a piece of equipment in the same business class seat for the same price if he/she is needed in Europe. That’s how corporations work. You seem to be unclear on that and you also seem to be interested in picking a fight with everyone. You and @Bob are welcome to find another sandbox.

  55. @LarryInNYC
    There was recently an advert from a start-up company for someone to manage (“hack”) their corporate travel.
    It was clear that the company took control of each individual’s FF accounts and used them for flights for other employees – one can redeem for anybody.

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