Why you can’t sell your frequent flier miles

Do you know it's generally against the rules to sell frequent flier miles and other airline perks?

Do you know it’s generally against the rules to sell frequent flier miles and other airline perks?

What should you do if your airline audits you?

This is something Gary Leff, the talented blogger at View from the Wing, explored Monday in a blog post. But before we explore his advice, perhaps you’re a bit puzzled about why an airline might audit you. It gets complicated, but most audits are triggered when the airline believes that you have sold someone else a benefit that was only supposed to go to you.

Some examples:

  • You redeem a free ticket using miles. You sell that “free” ticket to someone else for cash. (Giving the ticket to a friend or relative for free is usually OK.)  
  • Airline often give their best customers chits for free premium class upgrades. But customers also cannot sell these.

As we learned from the Minneapolis rabbi who had his account closed by Delta after he complained too much, airlines have complete control over your miles. And according to Leff, their auditing departments can be thorough. Sometimes, the airlines will confront travelers while on they are on their journey to question if they’ve purchased something that should have been free. More often, airlines will probe the person they’ve accused of selling the ticket or upgrade. In the worst cases, an airline can close your account.

Leff has a thorough explanation of exactly what to do on his blog. But here’s his advice in brief:

If you’ve broken program rules, offer a contrite apology. You might lose some points, you might even be asked to pay the cost of a ticket that was obtained contrary to program rules. But unless your conduct was large scale and ongoing you’ll probably be invited to continue participating in the program

When it comes to frequent flier programs, Leff knows his stuff. You might consider following him on Twitter.

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Trivia time: Guess right and win a Delta Air Lines lunch box. #swag

Dear Readers:

I’ve been assigned today to cover a workshop on the development of hydrogen fuel cell cars, so I won’t be able to post as much as I’d like. But, hey, I should get a chance to drive the Mercedes F-Cell, so that could be fun. I’m sure I’ll provide Twitter updates. 

Since I’ll be absent, let’s have another “Name that Interior” contest. If you can name the airline pictured below by noon Pacific time on Tuesday, you’ll qualify to win this week’s airline swag. I have what appears to be a Delta lunch box to give away. I’ll randomly choose one winner from all the correct answers. As long as the winner lives in the United States, I’ll mail him or her the lunch box. Your kid can be the coolest kid in the lunchroom.

So here’s our picture. Can you name the airline?

Can you name this airline? Photo: Stefan Krasowski, via Creative Commons.

Can you name this airline? Photo: Stefan Krasowski, via Creative Commons.

And here’s the swag you could win!

Delta swag

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American is evaluating LAX as possible hub for Asia flights, the airline’s president said

Will American build an Asian gateway at LAX? Photo: American.

Will American build an Asian gateway at LAX? Photo: American.

American Airlines is evaluating ways to make Los Angeles a primary gateway to Asia, but that does not mean it will happen, Flight Global’s Edward Russell reported this week.

“Figuring out how to make Los Angeles successful and a gateway to Asia is a strategic issue for us,” American Airlines Group president Scott Kirby said on April 4 at the Phoenix International Aviation Symposium. The Flight Global story is behind the site’s paywall but Russell gave me permission to cite it. Kirby said LAX is “very important,” to American.

In terms of Trans-Pacific flights, Los Angeles has been a difficult market for U.S-based carriers. American (Shanghai and Tokyo), Delta (both Tokyo airports) and United (Tokyo and Shanghai) have relatively few flights from L.A. across the Pacific. United and Delta have both had Hong Kong flights in the past, but no longer. LAX is still well covered in terms of international lift, but most of it comes from major international carriers ANA, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Korean, Asiana, Eva Airways, etc.

It’s possible American will change the dynamic. Los Angeles is not the ideal place for a Pacific gateway because it has not historically been as strong of a connecting hub as other airports. Flights tend to work best when there’s a good mix of local traffic (Angelenos in this case) along with connecting traffic. (Passengers from places like Phoenix and Salt Lake and Sacramento, etc. who come to the hub only long enough to change planes.) These gateways tend to be more lucrative when there’s relatively little competition from international carriers.

Los Angeles has the local traffic. The connecting traffic issue is more complicated. Yes, American has flights from throughout country to Los Angeles. But compared to say, Dallas and Chicago, Los Angeles is a small hub. So there are far fewer connecting passengers to feed the international flights. And it’s hard for American to add more domestic flights to feed the international ones, because the airline is gate constrained in L.A. Russell says American has access to 24 gates at LAX, though 10 of them are in a remote terminal and can only handle regional jets. It is to receive access to a few more gates in the airport’s new international terminal, but that’s no panacea.

Still, American is now the world’s largest airline. And as the world’s largest airline, American may need a West Coast gateway. San Francisco is taken — United owns it. And Delta is building a global hub from scratch in Seattle. So that leaves L.A. (I’m assuming that Phoenix is not a viable option.)

Here’s another thing people don’t think about with L.A. It’s actually quite a bit farther from Asia than San Francisco and Seattle. Russell says L.A. is 327 miles farther from Asia than San Francisco. L.A is about 432 miles father from Asia than Seattle.

What do you think? Will American try to build an Asian gateway in L.A.?

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American’s plans for its fleet, and other aviation stories of the past week

An American Airlines 777-300ER parked at LAX. Photo credit: American.

An American Airlines 777-300ER parked at LAX. American is taking delivery of six 777-300s this year, which will bring the total number in the fleet to 16. Photo credit: American.

What’s news in the world of aviation? These are the stories I have enjoyed most in the past week or so:

The size of American’s combined fleet will be just about the same this December as it was in December 2013, the Dallas Morning News reports. But the mix of the mainline airplanes will change a lot. “AAG plans to take delivery of 83 new airplanes in 2014 for American and US Airways, led by 42 of the Airbus A321s,” Terry Maxon writes. “That’s one new airplane every 4½ days, approximately. But AAG also plans to park 80 older airplanes, including 26 McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and 22 Boeing 757s.” The size of the total fleet will be about 970 airplanes.

Did you know that on 72 days in 2013 Delta did not cancel a single flight? And already this year, Delta told the Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney, it is already ahead of that pace. What’s Delta’s secret? McCartney breaks it down. One of the most interesting things? Delta moves flight crews around the system to ensure a flight does not necessarily need to be canceled just because the original pilots have gone illegal.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports on an interesting study on airline price volatility. Among U.S. airports, Bloomberg reported that San Francisco had the most volatility, while New York LaGuardia had the least. Among carriers, Alaska Airlines and US Airways played with their prices the least, according to the study.

In her regular column on Flyertalk, flight attendant Sarah Steegar says your flight crews like to mix things up with pranks. Apparently pilots will sometimes tell new hires that they have “forgotten the keys” to the airplane.  Hah!

Is Spirit interested in moving some flights from Fort Lauderdale to Miami? The Miami Herald says it’s a possibility. But that seems odd considering Miami has unusually high costs for airlines. Any ideas on why Spirit is floating this option?

And finally, one of my stories. I wrote a trend piece asking whether airlines have instituted something like an on-board caste system as they have added perks in premium cabins and taken them away from economy class travelers. “I just find it distasteful.” said Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance and a consistent airline critic. Others, of course, see no problem with airlines rewarding their most lucrative customers.

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First United Airlines Boeing 787-9 is almost ready

United's first 787-9, which it will fly from L.A. to Melbourne, is just about ready to fly for the carrier. Photo: United.

United’s first 787-9, which it will fly from L.A. to Melbourne, is just about ready to fly for the carrier. Photo: United.

The first United Airlines Boeing 787-9 has rolled off the assembly line in Everett, Wash., the carrier said this week.

This will be the airplane United uses on the Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia route, a flight the airline intends to begin in October. It will be operated six times per week.

Yes, United already has 787s, but those are 787-8s. This is a new version. It’s 20 feet longer than United’s current 787 fleet, and it carries 30 more passengers. It also has slightly longer range. It can fly an additional 300 nautical miles, according to United.

Boeing is actually using the United airplane to secure certification for the 787-9 program. It’s one of five airplanes being used that way, United said.

According to Forbes, the L.A.-Melbourne route will be the world’s longest 787 flight, at 7,927 miles.

Air New Zealand is officially the launch customer for the new model. Boeing published some photos of Air New Zealand’s first plane earlier this week.

Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9

 

air-new-zealand-787-9-dreamliner-black-livery-3

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