Using AAdvantage Miles Is Not Child’s Play

My wife and I didn’t let having children get in the way of traveling like we have always done all over the globe.  For instance, we thought nothing of taking our son, now 16, to England in his first year while a babe in arms.  He did fine, and he’s been all over the world with us since before he could talk or walk.  Later, when our daughter (now 11) came along, she joined us for every trip, too.

When my two kids turned three years old, I had to start buying a separate ticket for them, of course, and it was then that I registered them in Delta’s SkyMiles program and American’s AAdvantage programs.  (I also signed them up in the Northwest FF program, but those miles became SkyMiles when Delta and NWA merged.)  No sense paying for their seats and not accumulating miles in the frequent flyer programs, I reasoned.  Pretty soon their accounts were brimming with miles, but I never tried to use them.

We still take a lot of trips by air here in the USA and abroad.  Recently, though, my family has flown more on Delta than AA, and suddenly that’s caused a problem.  I noticed a few months ago that my kids AAdvantage miles will expire if not used by 6-30-15.  Or we can reset the clock by flying somewhere with them on American.  Since reasonable airfares have gone the way of the dodo, I decided instead to use their AAdvantage miles for trips with my wife and me before June of next year.

To do that I had to first get into their accounts.  I have their AAdvantage numbers, but I had to guess at the passwords I had set up for them.  I guessed right about our daughter’s, but struck out with my son’s, and so jumped through AA’s hoops for resetting his password.  I received a message saying that a temporary password had been emailed to me.  Except that it never came.  So I phoned American, and they told me that no email had ever been entered into my son’s account.  Then how come, I asked, AA sent me the email saying a temporary password was on the way? A puzzle, to be sure, they said.  I couldn’t get into my son’s account to add an email address without a password, but the only way I could add an email address was to get a temporary password that would be sent to me via the nonexistent email address.  A Catch-22, or even Kafkaesque!

Luckily the web expert at AA I spoke with believed me (after a lot of questions, to which I had the right answers), and she sent a temporary password to me which worked.  So now I was able to get into both kids’ AAdvantage accounts, and I was soon busy making reservations on their behalf on the same flight itineraries that my wife and I would soon make.

Of course the AA rez system calculated that my kids are 16 and 11, and when the time came for me to have the frequent flyer award travel tickets issued in each of their names, the system stopped me, saying they were each too young to fly on their own and would have to fly with adults.  There is nowhere in the online system to explain that they were indeed flying with adults: their parents!  That’s because our tickets and their tickets are on different PNR records and thus not associated with each other.  Another Catch-22.

Frustrated but undeterred, I phoned AA back and explained my conundrum.  The first agent I spoke with said he would be glad to associate the records, but I’d have to pay the ticketing fee (one fee for each of the four tickets) for using a real person to get the job done, even though the root cause is the flaw in their software.  Yet another Catch-22.  I declined his offer to enrich AA more, already perturbed that, as a Gold, I have to pay now for Main Cabin Extra seats.  Why should I pay for their logic errors?

I asked the nice AA rez agent if, instead, I could make the award seat reservations from my children’s accounts in my name and my wife’s name to avoid that problem.  Sure, I was told, as long as each of the children has a valid credit card in their name to pay for the nominal fees.  After all, you can’t pay in cash these days.  One more Catch-22.

My daughter has no credit card at age 11, and even though I recently acquired an American Express Platinum Card for my sixteen year old son, I realized that my plan would revert to the same problem when I tried to use my own miles, or my wife’s miles, to make reservations for our kids.  That is, the system would still prohibit those tickets being issued because it appears they are flying unaccompanied, regardless of the mileage source to pay for the free seats.  I sighed, comprehending the same Catch-22 as above, but turned on its head.

Defeated, I decided to take the coward’s way out and simply buy four tickets to where we are going, using, and thus reset the expiration date on everyone’s AAdvantage mileage.  It was the easiest way to stop wasting time, though it was disconcerting not to be able to use my kids’ mileage.  I guess we will have to keep resetting AA’s mileage expiration clock by periodically flying on American until our kids each turn 18 and can cash the miles in on their own.

[Footnote:  I have since learned from another AA agent I had to phone about a different matter that some agents will waive the ticketing fees to resolve the unassociated PNR numbers described above.  She was unsure, though, whether that’s AA policy or simply reservation agent courtesy discretion at work.]

3 thoughts on “Using AAdvantage Miles Is Not Child’s Play

  1. ANY activity will extend the miles expiration date by 18 months. Register a credit card of yours to their iDine / AAdvantage dining, sign them up for a survey, etc. there are myriad ways to add or bleed a few miles from an account once every 18 months or so.

  2. It’s strange to read some of these accounts and thus to realize that AA is still being chintzy with award travel. AAdvantage was probably first in developing a frequent flyer reward system, and I recall having to explain to people – at AA – that this was a reward system and not designed to squeeze as much money as possible from those presumably loyal customers. By changing or inventing rules that would likely deter these loyal customers, AA is encouraging people to test a bunch of artificial boundaries that not only “catch” but also discourage loyalty. Rewards with unexpected strings attached do more harm than their presumed “raison d-etre,” to reward loyalty.

  3. JDiver is right, and in the case of Delta, they typically send magazine offers for accounts which have been inactive for a while. So, just by spending 600 miles, or $6, the family member extends his or her miles and gets some (occasionally useful) magazine for 12 months. I also did this for my own account at American, recently, but can’t recall if they sent an offer; I suspect that I just explored their web options on my own. So, many ways to extend miles without much cost, or effort.

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