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Points, Miles & Credit Cards

Airline Miles: What They Are & How to Claim Them (Even After Your Flight)

Brooke Vaughan

Brooke Vaughan

August 7, 2023

6 min read

Table of Contents

In all of the excitement (and sometimes stress) of booking a trip, it can be easy to overlook the details. Take, for instance, claiming your airline miles. Maybe you completely forgot to add your loyalty number before clicking “Purchase Flight”—or worse, you weren’t even a member at the time of purchase. Luckily, most airlines recognize that if you’re going to stick around as a loyal customer, it’s in their best interest to let you claim those miles retroactively (yes, even people who were not yet members before they bought the flight). 

So what exactly are airline miles, how do they work, and what are airlines’ policies when it comes to requesting old or missing miles? 

How do airline miles work? 

Airlines offer loyalty programs that enable you to accrue miles—sometimes called frequent flyer miles—on qualifying purchases, like when you take a flight with that airline. Some loyalty programs even allow you to earn miles when you pay for qualifying purchases using the airline’s credit card, dine at partner restaurants, or fly through partner airlines. 

Airline partnerships are often called alliances, and the biggest ones include Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and Oneworld.  

Miles can be redeemed for free or discounted flights in the future, hotel stays, and upgrades, like a better seat. Members of these programs usually also receive additional benefits, such as priority boarding, additional free checked baggage, or the ability to earn more miles on more purchases or bookings. 

Some of the most popular airline loyalty programs in the US include: 

  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 
  • American Airlines AAdvantage
  • Delta SkyMiles 
  • JetBlue TrueBlue 
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • United MileagePlus

How to earn airline miles

Earning airline miles is usually as simple as signing up for the airline’s loyalty program. For American Airlines, it’s AAdvantage. For United, it’s MileagePlus. And so on. 

When you sign up, the airline will give you a personal identification number, which you can add during the checkout process in order to earn miles for flights.  

How to claim miles after your flight

If you forgot to input your loyalty number during checkout—or if you weren’t even a member at the time of your flight—you can retroactively claim those miles, or request a mileage credit. You can usually do this from within your account, through the airline’s website, or by contacting the airline’s customer service number. 

Here’s what you need to know about requesting miles from six popular US airlines. 

Alaska Airlines plane in flight.

Alaska Airlines

  • Loyalty program: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  • When to request: 7 days after domestic flight, 14 days after international or partner flight
  • How long do you have?: 12 months after flight
  • Alliance: Oneworld
  • Request your miles

With Alaska’s Mileage Plan, you don’t have to be a member when you take the flight to claim your miles through the online request form. However, if you are not a member, you will need to call and have a customer service representative help you get those miles added to your account.  

You’ll need your Mileage Plan number and your 13-digit ticket number, which you can find in your confirmation email. If you paid by credit card, your ticket number will also be in the description field of your credit card statement for the transaction. 

Don’t have your Mileage Plan number? Don’t worry. A customer service representative can help you add your miles with the confirmation code on your purchase receipt.

American Airlines planes lined up on the tarmac at an airport.

American Airlines

  • Loyalty program: American Airlines AAdvantage
  • When to request: 3 days after flight
  • How long do you have?: 12 months after flight for existing members, 6 months after flight new members
  • Alliance: Oneworld
  • Request your miles

Luckily, you can still retroactively request miles through American’s AAdvantage program if you were not a member at the time of your flight; however, the window to claim those miles shortens to six months, so don’t drag your feet. 

To request flight miles, you’ll need your AAdvantage number and 13-digit ticket number (3 character airline code plus 10-digit number). You can find your ticket number in your confirmation email and receipt, on your airport receipt, or in your credit card statement. 

If you don’t have an AAdvantage number, you should sign up for the program first and then use your new number to request your miles. You can also request miles through American Airlines' partners here

Delta Air Lines plane taking off from Los Angeles airport.

Delta Air Lines

  • Loyalty program: Delta SkyMiles
  • When to request: 7 days after flight 
  • How long do you have?: 9 months after flight
  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Request your miles

Delta’s SkyMiles program is slightly stricter than the loyalty programs of other airlines—you only have nine months after your flight to request miles whether you are a member at the time of  your flight or not. But even if you are not a member at the time of your flight, you can still sign up for the program after the fact and request your miles retroactively. 

In order to request miles, you’ll need your SkyMiles number and ticket number. You can also request miles through eligible Delta partners by signing into your account and selecting Partner Flights from the drop-down menu.

JetBlue plane in flight.


  • Loyalty program: JetBlue TrueBlue
  • When to request: 14 days after flight
  • How long do you have?: 12 months after flight
  • Alliance: None, but it has TrueBlue partnerships with American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Icelandair, JSX, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Silver Airways, South African Airways 
  • Log into your TrueBlue account to request miles, or learn more about the program here

To claim JetBlue TrueBlue miles, you have to log into your account and select the “Request Missing Points” link. The TrueBlue terms of service don’t specify whether you have to be a member at the time of your flight in order to claim missing miles, but when asked, the customer service representative seemed more than willing to assist—so we say go for it. 

You’ll need your ticket number and TrueBlue number (or maybe flight confirmation code if you don’t have the latter) to request missing miles from a JetBlue flight or TrueBlue partner. 

Southwest Airlines planes lined up on the tarmac at an airport while another flight takes off.

Southwest Airlines

  • Loyalty program: Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • When to request: 3 days after flight
  • How long do you have?: 12 months after flight
  • Alliance: None
  • Request your miles

You do not have to be a Southwest Rapid Rewards member at the time that you took the flight to retroactively claim your miles. In fact, you can sign up for the program, log into your account, select “Rapid Rewards”, and request past flight miles so long as you are within that 12-month window. 

Simply add your flight confirmation number to request miles for past Southwest flights or purchases through Southwest partners. 

United Airlines plane taxiing at an airport.

United Airlines

  • Loyalty program: United MileagePlus
  • When to request: 5 days after flight
  • How long do you have?: 12 months after flight
  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Request your miles

Similar to Delta Air Lines, United has a slightly different policy if you were not a MileagePlus member when you took the flight that you are requesting miles for. Whereas existing members can request missing miles 12 months after their flight, you only have six months to retroactively claim miles if you were not a member at the time of the flight. You’ll also have to wait until 30 days after your flight in order to request those miles. 

If you were not a member at the time of the flight, you will need to contact the MileagePlus Service Center in order to request that those miles be added to your account. For United and eligible partner flights, you’ll need to add your 13-digit ticket number. Some partner flights may require additional flight information in order to complete your request.

Thinking about a mileage run to get more miles in a certain period of time? Here's what you should know about when mileage run are worth it. 

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Brooke Vaughan
Brooke Vaughan is a St. Louis-born, Portland-based writer and editor. She graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism with a master's degree and has contributed to publications including AFAR, Tripadvisor, Time Out Barcelona, and Huckberry.

Published August 7, 2023

Last updated January 9, 2024

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