Pet peeve: “Oh, you’re on a free ticket”

Just a minor gripe, but I do feel the need to bring this up. It frustrates me when people — airline phone agents, airport agents, or anyone, for that matter — refer to award tickets as “free tickets.” Yes, they can be great deals, especially in premium cabins, but they’re by no means free.

At the very least they “cost” a lot of loyalty and a hefty amount in taxes. More than likely, they cost quite a bit in cold hard cash too (phone fees, close-in-ticketing fees, change fees, redeposit fees, partner fees, fuel surcharges, etc.), not to mention people often buy miles for award tickets. Heck, I know plenty of people that bought $10,000+ worth of US Airways miles back when they had that crazy promotion at the end of last year.

So while it can be a great deal, award tickets aren’t in any way, shape, or form, free. So when I called Asiana a few days ago to select seats for my brother on a first class ticket and the agent said “oh, this is a free ticket booked through Air Canada,” I was very tempted to lecture him, but of course I knew better.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Filed Under: Awards
  1. In the 1990s, I was turned down entrance to the IAD RCC club when traveling on an international F award ticket due to making a stop in DC and then trying to gain entrance for my domestic flight home. The RCC man working the entrance lectured me that I was on a free F ticket. I told him the miles earned to fly this ticket were from purchased international F tickets one United, but its failed to presuade him to grant me entrance. The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.

  2. In the 90s on an award ticket I was close to getting bumped of a flight as some NRSAs complained that they didn’t get on and tried to push the GA to unload the free ticket holders. The GA knew not to do this and thanked me for my business as a 1K and apologized for his colleagues.

  3. Same thing as referring to free upgrades–they earned the same way. The only free upgrade is an op up. UDU is earned with status which is primarily earned with BIS miles.

  4. Note that the airlines Conditions of Carriage make no distinction between a confirmed reservation or a ticketed itinerary based on the method of purchase. That means there is no difference, none, between a ticket paid for with miles and one paid for with cash. In other words, there is no such thing as a free ticket. The concept doesn’t even exist as far as your agreement with the airline goes.

    I’ve more than once had to point this out to an airline when they refused to honor some portion or other of the COC’s (such as rerouting protection). Even at the highest levels this idea seems to be difficult for the airlines to comprehend. In one case they refused to understand it until the final court order and judgement was issued after I sued them.

    So don’t expect them to ever get this on their own. It can really bit you when the flight you are scheduled on is cancelled and they refuse to put you on another carrier claiming they don’t have to because it is an award ticket. Not much you can do beside attempt to correct them, get shot down and then sue.

    Sad, but true.

  5. When I am told that I am traveling on a free ticket, I point out that the miles program of the airline is often the only profitable part of the business. Someone (merchant, bank, brokerage, etc.) paid very well for the miles, and the airline employee probably owes his or her job to that, and thus should be thankful that miles are desirable to many of us, thus creating demand for them filled by the business buying them for us.

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