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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Spirit Airlines will give extra frequent flier miles to most frugal customers

Spirit is poking fun at Delta Air Lines. Photo: Spirit.

Spirit is poking fun at Delta Air Lines. Photo: Spirit.

Spirit Airlines is having some fun at the expense of its much larger rivals.

In a bit of gorilla marketing on Monday, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based airline said  it will temporarily give bonus frequent flier miles to passengers who book the cheapest fares.

If you book a one-way fare for fewer than $36, you’ll receive 1,000 bonus miles from Spirit. If the fare is between $26 and $65, you’ll get an extra 500 miles. And if your fare is between $66 and $99, you’ll receive an additional 250 miles.

Last month, Delta Air Lines revamped its Skymiles structure so that customers who buy expensive tickets will receive far more miles than those who buy cheap ones. Other larger airlines are also moving in this direction, though not as quickly.

“We see an increasing trend in other airlines switching to an elitist frequent flier reward system that essentially favors customers who have deeper wallets and can spend more money on their flights,” Bobby Schroeter, Vice President of Consumer Marketing said in a statement. “Our FREE SPIRIT program rewards customers based on their loyalty and we
firmly believe that the more money we save our customers, the more loyal they will be.”

Customers who buy Spirit tickets before April 15 will be eligible for the promotion.

Spirit is known for two things. Cheap fares and suspect customer service. NPR’s Planet Money program did a feature on Spirit recently, and it’s worth a listen if you haven’t yet heard it.

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Travel infrequently? You’ll be earning fewer Delta Sky Miles in 2015

Delta is making major changes to its frequent flier program. Photo: Delta

Delta is making major changes to its frequent flier program. Photo: Delta

Delta Air Lines on Wednesday announced changes to its SkyMiles program that will reward the airline’s most lucrative and frequent travelers while making it more difficult for sporadic travelers, mainly of the leisure variety, to earn enough miles to redeem for free tickets.

The changes going into effect in 2015.

Instead of earning miles based on the numbers of miles of your flight, you’ll earn them based on how much money you spent on the ticket. The pricier your fare, the more miles you earn. Also, you’ll earn even more miles if you are an elite member of the SkyMiles program or if you buy your ticket using a Delta branded credit card. For full details, check out the press release on Delta’s website. Delta also put out a FAQ, which you can find here.

Delta published a chart of how you will earn miles in the future:

SkyMiles program status Miles per dollar* Miles earned with Credit Card*+ Total miles per dollar*
General member 5 +2 7
Silver Medallion 7 +2 9
Gold Medallion 8 +2 10
Platinum Medallion 9 +2 11
Diamond Medallion 11 +2 13
+ on Delta spend

This is likely good news for business travelers who buy a lot of pricey tickets. In the future, it’ll be possible for a traveler buying an expensive last-minute ticket to earn more miles with a coach ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco than a leisure traveler would earn on a flight from L.A. to New York. Under the current distance-based formula, all travelers earn far more miles on Coast-to-Coast flights than they do on short-hops.

Delta also plans to make changes to its redemption chart, but those details are limited. We do know  it will be possible to use your SkyMiles for one-way tickets, which is not now not an option. You must currently buy a round-trip. We also expect Delta will tweak its award charts so that there is more variance in how many miles a “free” trip will cost. The number of miles required will probably fluctuate, even more than it does now, based on demand. So if you want to use your miles for a popular route, it’ll probably cost you a lot.

Want a more thorough breakdown? The frequent fliers at Flyertalk, who engage in a fine message board, have shared nearly 500 posts about the changes. 

Also, Delta is the nation’s third-largest carrier. But I think most industry watchers expect that its competitors probably will eventually roll out similar programs.

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Your United and Delta miles will be less in 2014 than now. But why?

United Airlines is devaluing its MileagePlus program in 2014. Photo courtesy of the airline.

United Airlines is devaluing its MileagePlus program in 2014. Photo courtesy of the airline.

Your Frequent flier miles on  some airlines will be worth less in 2014 than they were in 2013 .

“A mile earned today is worth less than a mile earned a year ago,” said Tim Winship, the Los Angeles-based editor of FrequentFlier.com. “I think it’s a pretty fair bet that a mile earned a year from now will be worth less than today’s miles. That is very much the trend. There’s no sign that it is going to turn around any time in the future.”

But what’s the reason for this change? I highlighted a couple of them in a newspaper story from the weekend. First, unlike in previous years when planes routinely took off with empty seats, airlines are packing planes with paying customers, leaving fewer seats for them to give away. Second, airlines spent the past decade selling and giving away huge numbers of frequent flier miles, a trend that was bound to cause — eventually — some inflation.

I was able to weave in the nickname for Delta Sky Miles, which some frequent fliers say is the least generous program.

“Skypesos — that term has been floating around for years,” said Brian Kelly, founder of a popular website called The Points Guy. “Delta has always been known as leading the way to the bottom of the pack. They give them out like candy but they make them extremely difficult to use.”

Both Delta and United have announced major devaluations for 2014. Each has considerably raised the number of miles for premium class travel, while more or less keeping economy class as is. Rahsaan Johnson, a United spokesman, said the reason for this is because premium class travel is worth far more to travelers than ever before.

“The reason for the change is that the value of the product — the value that customers assign to our international premium cabin product — is significantly higher today than it was in 2008, which was the last time that we had an increase in award mileage levels,” Johnson said. “If you flew in 2008, chances are you were in a cradle seat that did not lie flat. You did not have on-demand audio and video.”

What do you plan to do with your airline miles in 2014? Earn and burn them? Or hold onto them?

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