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Three Ways to Get Kicked Out of Your Frequent Flyer Program

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airplaneThis month, the Supreme Court ruled against a man who tried to get his frequent flyer miles back after getting them revoked for complaining so much that it seemed like fraud. It gets you wondering: how much power do airlines have over my frequent flyer miles? Read on for three stories about airlines terminating the frequent flyer accounts of frequent passengers.

Complain Too Much

Binyomin Ginsberg was a Northwest Platinum Elite member until he got a call by Northwest Airlines explaining that his membership, and accrued miles, had been revoked. Why? They told him he was abusing the program, doing things like intentionally booking himself on full flights and getting bumped off so that he could seek compensation.

“When I pushed for a reason and clarification, they told me it was because I was complaining too much,” Ginsberg said.

Northwest then sent a letter stating he had complained 24 times in eight months, nine of which were complaints about his bags arriving late at the carousel.PHone

“You have continually asked for compensation over and above our guidelines. We have awarded you $1,925.00 in travel credit vouchers, 78,500 WorldPerks bonus miles, a voucher extension for your son, and $491.00 in cash reimbursements,” the letter stated. He took his case to the Supreme Court but lost.

The Fine Print: Northwest is now a part of Delta, whose SkyMiles program rules state “Delta reserves the right to de-activate or close an account… [if] fraudulent activity occurs.” Complain a lot and the airline may think you’re gaming the system for free stuff.

Buy a seat for “Mr. Cello”

Don’t fly Delta and buy an extra seat for sensitive luggage. Classical cellist Lynn Harrell flies around the world to play, and he used to protect his expensive cello by purchasing an extra ticket for it—under the name Mr. Cello.

He did so for over a decade. Then, in 2012, Delta sent Harrell a short letter explaining that they canceled both Harrell’s and Mr. Cello’s frequent flyer program, dismissed the miles they had accrued, and that Harrell could never reopen an account.Lynn Harrell

“It seemed as though they were trying to make me feel like some sort of master criminal,” Harrell said. The letter said “mileage is not awarded for tickets purchased for musical instruments,” and used that “violation” as justification for terminating his account.

The Fine Print: The SkyMiles rules state “Mileage credit will not be given for…tickets purchased to carry excess baggage such as musical instruments and pets or to provide extra space for the primary passenger.” Making a SkyMiles account for something other than a human being could get your membership revoked.

Do What Airlines Say You Can Do

American offered an unlimited ticket, called an AAirpass, for a high price in 1981: purchase one for $250,000 and you can fly first class whenever, wherever, forever. Pay an extra $150,000 and you get an unlimited companion ticket.

A few customers took advantage of the “unlimited” part—for example, two flyers amassed a combined 67 million miles over the years. American realized the problem with an all-you-can-eat approach and cancelled a few AAirpass tickets that were too gluttonous.

photo_aa_plane_winglet“It soon became apparent that the public was smarter than we were,” former American CEO Bob Crandall said.

These AAirpass members did things like use fake names on their companion tickets to get extra room for themselves, bring along strangers, or sell flights, which gave American the ability to accuse them of fraud to ease the cancellation process. The AAirpass contracts at the time didn’t prohibit such activities, but that didn’t stop the airline.

The Fine Print: American stopped offering AAirpasses in 2004, but the old contract uses the same all-empowering clause present in airline rules: “If American determines that an AAirpass has been fraudulently used, American reserves the right to revoke the AAirpass and all privileges associated with it.” If you’re doing something that is costing an airline money, they’ll look into you.

Read on for more about frequent flyer mile programs:

By Cody Brooks for PeterGreenberg.com

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