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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