Will I Earn Elite Miles If I Ditch My Last Flight Segment?

Dec 13, 2015

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TPG reader Sarung sent me a message on Facebook to ask about earning elite-qualifying miles:

“I capitalized on the recent Santiago deal Delta was running and got a ticket for $400. My routing is LGA-ATL-SCL-ATL-LGA, but I may need to break my journey on the return in ATL and forfeit the final ATL-LGA leg. If I do that, will I lose out on elite miles for the entire trip?”

Delta introduced its revenue-based program at the beginning of 2015, changing how frequent flyers earn redeemable SkyMiles and eliminating the potential to earn a windfall on a long, inexpensive flight. However, Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) are still generally calculated based on the actual distance flown. That means an itinerary like the one Sarung scored (which covers almost 11,000 miles in the air) presents a great opportunity to boost your Medallion status.

Sarung is worried that he may need to ditch his flight back to New York and wants to know whether that will forfeit the MQMs earned on the earlier portion of his trip. Fortunately, there’s no cause for concern. While you probably won’t earn miles for any flights you skip, Delta awards elite credits after each individual leg of your trip (though they may not appear in your account immediately). In this case, you should earn credit for the two outbound flights plus the return flight from Santiago to Atlanta. You’ll only lose the 750 or so miles for that last flight from Atlanta to LaGuardia.

Not all airlines are as generous in this respect. For example, Southwest states explicitly that Rapid Rewards members will not earn points for tickets that are only partly completed. Other airlines (including Delta) might withhold rewards (or worse) if they suspect you’re ditching a flight leg to get a better fare — a strategy known as hidden city ticketing. I think that’s highly unlikely in Sarung’s case, but it’s worth noting.

Delta awards elite credits after your flight lands, so missing your last leg won’t cause you to lose rewards you’ve already earned.

Of course, this wouldn’t work if you missed the first leg of such a trip (for example, if you found some other way to get to Atlanta). In that case, the remainder of your itinerary would be canceled and you wouldn’t be able to board the flight to Santiago without paying a change fee before the first flight departs (and likely a huge fare increase).

Sarung’s example also works because the flight he intends to ditch comes after an international arrival. He’ll have to claim checked bags in Atlanta before passing through customs and immigration, so he doesn’t have to worry about them continuing on to New York without him. If you’re skipping the last leg of a domestic flight, you’ll need to account for your baggage.

For more info on earning Delta SkyMiles and Medallion elite status, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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