Tracking Missing Miles and Making Sure You Get All the Points That Are Due to You

Back in July Singapore Airlines made tons of first class awards available to their partners. Given Singapore’s history, and even though they’ve been making plenty more first class awards on their Boeing 77W aircraft available to their own members, this was pretty clearly at the time not intentional. And it was short-lived.

I booked a whole bunch of tickets, not knowing which ones I would have use for or when I would be able to actually take the trips. Fortunately I had a fairly hefty United mileage balance which allowed me to do that (and a hefty Chase Ultimate Rewards balance I could have made instant transfers from in order to supplement that balance had I needed it).

While I made about a million miles worth of bookings, in the end I will only use a couple of the first class awards. As my schedule firms, I’m able to cancel those awards and get miles back.

A week ago I cancelled two first class awards booked by United.

Just as United no longer issues award tickets instantly, they also no longer redeposits miles immediately.

But just like in Casablanca, while the fortunate ones may receive their miles back quickly in order to book new award tickets with their miles (perhaps “to scurry to Lisbon; and from Lisbon, to the New World.”) While the rest of us “wait… and wait… and wait… and wait.”

Having waited a week I filled out the MileagePlus Service Center contact form asking for my miles back. A few hours later I had a form e-mail response, and the miles back in my account.

I find it interesting that miles now credit back with the same activity date that they were deducted, another subtle difference from the old United system.

The overall point here isn’t at all a complaint about United. I’d have rather that the miles were credited back instantly, especially if I needed them to book a new award. And I don’t know how long it would have taken on its own, I suspect that United would have done it in a sweep or at least eventually caught that they hadn’t. But I certainly am not willing to trust that this is the case when 280,000 miles are at stake.

There’s a broader point, not just about United miles, but about all miles and points generally. Sometimes they post, sometimes they do not.

It’s rarely the case that miles from flying a given airline, when crediting those miles to that airline’s frequent flyer program, will have difficulty posting. That’s why I don’t worry about using airline mobile apps, when I fly American I credit to my American AAdvantage account, so the lack of a phyiscal boarding pass to use later if I have to fight for miles isn’t a stressor. (And paper boarding passes are frequently no longer required when crediting flights to an airline’s own program, and depending on the airline even when crediting to a partner program.)

But not all partners credit so seamlessly. And when there’s real mileage at stake, it’s worth tracking and following up on.

When my miles didn’t credit back to United for the cancelled award ticket, I added those miles o my simple tracking spreadsheet.

I record the date of a transaction, which frequent flyer program it is, how many miles I’m owed, and a description of what what supposed to generate the miles. And I record when I expect to receive the miles, this is the proverbial “miles will credit 8-10 weeks after the end of the promotion” so that I know when miles are late.

I track my miles each morning with a single click over at Award Wallet. That shows me all of my balance changes, and anything that credits which was on my spreadsheet I will delete from the missing miles sheet.

Of course that’s no help with American, Southwest, and Delta since those airlines don’t allow Award Wallet to track their accounts. I don’t participate in Southwest Rapid Rewards, so that’s not a great loss. And I’m less inclined to credit miles to American or Delta, all other things equal, because my routine won’t work easily with those programs. I fly American and those miles credit without difficulty. But if a shopping purchase or car rental will earn just as many miles in another frequent flyer program, I’d chose that other program.

Then I review the spreadsheet regularly. I scan down to see what miles are past their ‘expected by’ date and I can follow up on those.

I have a folder in my email box where I keep online purchases, I can search those for the transactions I’ll need to follow up on. And I keep plenty of screen shots as well, screen shots used to be one of my bigger uses of hard drive space but now I keep most of those in the cloud.

This simple system allows me to keep up with the miles that are owed to me, and to be relentless in my followup. I won’t usually contact a program until the ‘expected by’ date I’ve set. But I will keep contacting the program or the merchant until the miles post. And since this is all electronic, it takes only moments to do.

What sort of system do you use to track your miles, and make sure that they post? I’d love to know any better ideas out there.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Still waiting for one of these refunds myself. Except i paid $150 to get the miles back and it has been 17 days now. Getting annoying… I will fill out that form and hope for the best. Thanks for the post!

  2. Whether it’s 100 miles or 100,000, I track EVERYTHING and hold onto it til I see my postings.
    I normally try to remember to make screen shots or prints of every step of a process and then I save any emails or notes on calls and such along the way. Whether it be from some promotion or airline posting, or from something bought online or through a discount, etc, I save all steps.
    I tend to do this such that I can save to PDF (some print to PDF, some can be saved to PDF, and some scanned in to become PDFs) and then make folders for each ‘open job’ in my mileage world. I do keep print pages too but PDF is often better for many reasons.
    One example of a small but significant points buy for me is this: If I buy my wife another gift card at one of her favorite spots, Panera, for 300 MyPoints, I save everything about the offer and what I received and when, and will only toss it when I see the points fully post. The gift card itself could have come and been used up long ago, but the points must post too. I even go in later and when they show in MyPoints as pending, I print that page as well and stick in the ‘job ticket’.
    For e-miles, for example, once you hit 500, it goes to the airline you selected. I save that set of pages until the miles are in. If I flew a partner airline and am supposed to receive 3,500 miles for the trip I will watch for those. I also had to have UA miles redeposited into my account (for me they had changed the flight by more than 4hrs and one connecting airport too) and it took 3 weeks and 4 long phone calls to finally grasp the 240k UA from the airline! I had booked flights back when we had our old UA numbers, then changed the trip to something new on my own still using same cities, travelers and miles, and then they changed the times and connections so we were able to get everything refunded (I currently have no status on UA). They needed me to find and have available the original flight information to get this done. I had it all.
    My wife got a few of those offers in the mail where you need to spend $30 on certain things to get a $15 store gift card. We did ’em all and we save all the paperwork until some 6-8 weeks from now when these GCs promise to arrive. And you can bet I saved every scrap related to those recent Staples rebates on $100 GCs even though we all know Staples is pretty good about their rebates anyway.
    I have learned that if there’s a problem and I had to do battle with a company, it may be best to actually hold onto the ‘job’ even after it’s ‘closed’ so I can maybe reference it later on. ie, if this same thing happens again, I have more ‘evidence’ to show them so they fix it once more and stop letting their stupid have a negative impact on me.
    Much of this goes to the notion that the guy in the court room with the most relevant paperwork wins. It has rung true nearly every time I have had a problem–big or small.

  3. Gary, while I’m no fan of UA these days, I have to say that I’ve received miles back instantly on my past 8 or so award itins that I’ve cancelled, going back the past ~4 months. So it is sometimes possible w/SHARES 😉

  4. A simple excel spreadsheet works fine for me. I put an alert in those accounts where a significant bonus is due – like 50,000 AAdvantage miles coming my way for the citi AX and VISA signups.

  5. My system is basis and still in the revolving stages. I print out the purchase information. I then file the documents in my “pending” folder with a hand written note asking myself if I received the points and merchandise. I go through my “pending” folder daily. Once complete, I throw away the documents.

  6. You do know that getting miles refunded for a canceled award ticket is a 2-step process, right? First you cancel the award ticket, then you “my reservations”, find the canceled award ticket, then click “refund miles”. If you do that, it refunds the miles withing a few minutes (in about the same time it takes to ticket a reservation).

  7. @Antonio – if you just “refund” it, it’s a single step, and they’ll come right back (at least IME)

  8. Also be careful tracking award changes involving a mileage refund. I booked a mixed Saver/Standard coach award to Europe (85K miles) which I changed to all Saver (60K miles). After two months, the 25K refund due me had not posted. I called Mileage Plus; they said they were putting the refund request on an internal queue, but they still did not post. I called Res, who transferred me to an international Mileage Plus desk; the agent finally refunded the miles while we were on the phone. Not sure how the process is supposed to work.

  9. Hi Gary, I am always wondering how can people spend so much on their credit for miles or points? What stuffs do big spenders usually swipe their credit card on? I mean for a lot of people even it is hardly to swipe $50,000 ?

  10. A timely article for me as my flights 9/1-9/15 were LAX-IAD-AMS, then home BSL-LHR-YYC-LAX. I booked points with united but they were only the first flight. (Nothings posted yet). The others were air Canada and…British airways. Even the desk clerk questioned why they booked me with BA since its not star alliance. In any event, my probably silly question is: will united credited me for ALL thise miles or do I have to go into aircanada and BA and go to war? Tx

  11. Forget the spreadsheet, just set a calendar reminder with all the info needed in it, then I forget about until the calendar reminds me. This way I have it on my phone, work pc, home pc, wherever I need it. And I don’t have to bother with a google doc.

    I just had my calendar item pop up for my 500 skymiles via LeClub that hadn’t posted…called in and the rep credited the miles on the phone.

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