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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After problems with AAdvantage award, man files DOT claim against American Airlines

American canceled a flight and foiled two award tickets purchased by Darren Martin. So Martin filed a complaint with the U.S. DOT. Photo: American.

American canceled a flight and foiled two award tickets purchased by Darren Martin. So Martin filed a complaint with the U.S. DOT. Photo: American.

In February, Darren Martin booked two American Airlines award tickets for his parents between Boston and London Heathrow with a brief stop in Chicago. But two weeks after Martin booked, he learned that American had decided not to operate the first flight of the journey. And that was a problem.

Martin’s parents would miss their connecting flight to London and thus would not be able to reach London on schedule. Martin wanted American to make it right, to get his parents to London on that day without charging more fees or taxes. But American would not, and Martin was left with few good options for his parents outside of canceling the tickets.

So what did Martin do? He filed a 19-page complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“This complaint arises out of American Airlines cancelling its early-morning nonstop service BOS-ORD on which I had redeemed and ticketed two AAdvantage awards as part of a BOS-ORD-LHR itinerary,” Martin wrote. “AA then refused to provide alternative comparable transport unless I paid additional fees (repeatedly mischaracterized as “tax”), in violation of AA’s prior commitments to passengers and to the Department of Transportation.”

After a substantial discussion of the problem in which he goes as far as to cite Twitter direct messages with American, Martin asks the DOT to take action. Here’s just the first three things he wants DOT to do:

1. Exercise its authority under 49 USC 41712 to open an investigation of American Airlines for having engaged in, and continuing to engage in, the unfair or deceptive practices described above;
2. Order American Airlines to provide to the DOT and to me all notes, PNR annotations, call recordings, and other records prepared by its systems and its staff in the course of the discussions herein.
3. Pursuant to such investigation, order American Airlines to refund to ticket purchasers all monies represented to ticket purchasers as “taxes” or government-imposed fees, but not actually remitted to governments.

What do you think of Martin’s move? A futile waste of time? Or genius?

Here’s the complaint:

Complaint of Darren Martin – American Airlines

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Deal: Book an American Airlines award ticket to Los Angeles or Las Vegas for 20,000 miles round-trip

American Airlines is offering a deal on flights to Los Angeles and Las Vegas through the beginning of April. Photo: Creative Commons.

American Airlines is offering a deal on flights to Los Angeles and Las Vegas through the beginning of April. Photo: Creative Commons.

American Airlines has temporarily cut the number of AAdvantage miles customers need to visit Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Tim Winship wrote on his Frequentflier.com blog.

If you book a coach ticket by Feb. 27, it’ll cost only 10,000 miles each way — or 20,000 miles round-trip. Usually, a domestic coach ticket costs 25,000, so if you’re planning a trip to Los Angeles or Las Vegas and want to use miles, you should jump on this. The deal is valid for flights through April.  Here’s the deal on American’s website. 

I suspect we’ll see a lot more “deals” like this in the future. The way domestic award flights are priced generally does not make sense, and it does jibe with with the way airlines sell regular tickets.

If you’re trying to buy a plane ticket to Los Angeles or Las Vegas, you’ll probably notice that the price of the ticket changes by day. There’s essentially no set price. It depends on a bunch of factors, including where you are flying from and what the overall demand is for the flight. A ticket from L.A. to Las Vegas might be $120 one day, and $250 the next. It’ll almost certainly be more if you’re flying from New York to Las Vegas.

But that’s not how these award seats work. American essentially has only two options for coach seats — a round-trip ticket for 25,000 miles if the flight is relatively empty, or a round-trip ticket for 50,000 miles if the flight is projected to have a lot of demand. The crazy thing is that it doesn’t even matter where you are flying from. San Francisco to L.A. is the same “price” as New York to L.A.

In the future, I think airlines will fix this problem. So some round-trip flights for which demand is low might available for 20,000 miles — like these L.A. and Vegas flights — and some will cost a lot more miles.

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