Letters – July, 29 2003

Letters – July, 29 2003

Flagging Us Down
Having just read your article entitled “Red Flags” (07/03), I find one particular “mileage peril” conspicuously absent: Members of frequent flyer programs who violate the airline’s tariff rules.

For years, FFP rules have contained warnings that, in addition to violations of program rules, violating the carrier’s contract of carriage and tariff rules could result in confiscation of mileage as well as revoked elite status and denied future membership. These “violations” include back-to-back ticketing, hidden-city ticketing or even throw-away ticketing: simply buying a cheaper roundtrip ticket and using only the first flight coupon.

In recent years, airlines have developed sophisticated software programs designed to catch violators of their tariff rules. These capabilities have been used to trigger gazillions of debit memos against travel agencies accused of the offending ticketing practices, but I am unaware of whether significant action has been taken against any member’s frequent flyer account as the airlines warn.

I am an Infinite Platinum member of Continental Airlines’ OnePass program with over a million miles on account. In my opinion, throw-away ticketing is exactly the same as buying the “Super-Size” box of Tide, because it is cheaper than the medium-size box and throwing the unused soap away, or buying a whole candy bar only to eat half … hardly a crime, but possibly losing my lifetime elite status and $150,000.00 worth of mileage purchasing power is too great a risk to take for a cheaper airline ticket or to avoid a Saturday night stay.
Mark Stein

Editor’s Note:
Thanks, Mark. Actually, we had thought about that, but it really isn’t a major problem for most frequent flyers. In fact, I know of only two people who have been busted for that over the years. I understand the argument of the Tide and candy bar, but they are not really fair comparisons — neither of those two items come with usage restrictions. Back-to-back ticketing is so easy to defeat it’s really hard to understand how and why anyone would even consider that a problem.

Hidden city is the only caveat I know, and in case you hadn’t heard, a class-action lawsuit involving that issue is advancing in federal court, and so far has been able to sidestep the airlines’ attempts to get the Supreme Court to rule on it (the high court opted not to, citing the ability of federal courts to hear the case). So, there may be good news ahead for some, but again, it’s a fairly small number of people who still use that system, considering all the other ways to save on fares when traveling.

Thanks for the note and thanks for reading. Hope your summer is nothing but wonderful.

Unimpressed with Bad Games
I hope your magazine — representing us, the traveling public — will keep close tabs on one aspect of flight awards. That aspect is the limited seats and the difficulty of claiming your award.

We — all of us — must lean on the airlines and tell them we’re not impressed with frequent flyer programs when the airlines play bad games with us, and limit our ability to use those awards with “capacity controls.” Southwest Airlines deserves credit — and our support — for using blackout dates rather than capacity controls.

Capacity controls mean that the airplane flies out with empty seats, but you can’t be aboard because the few seats allocated for awards are filled. How ridiculous is that? We really need to communicate with airlines, and communicate by not flying on those airlines that don’t listen to us. The capacity controls have got to go!
Mark Terry

Is Anybody Listening in the Great White North?
[Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to Robert Milton, President of Air Canada.]

Despite the numerous complaints about your appallingly short-sighted decision to charge customers for redeeming Aeroplan points, you have obviously failed to listen to those customers, the irritating people who pay your salary.

Since complaints have not done the job, I thought I would express the situation in dollars and cents. In the past 60 days, your decision has meant that I have spent in excess of $2,700 using a credit card other than my former principal card, the Aerogold Visa card. If I assume that Air Canada earns about 2 cents/mile for each dollar spent, this little decision alone has cost the airline more than $50, or more than the fees generated from 2 ticket redemptions.

Oh, and by the way, I have already applied for and received a new primary card, one that will receive much of my future spending, and that does not charge a fee for receiving the very reward promised by the card! If I annualize my spending, I alone will cost you $700 in revenue.

Well done, no wonder the airline is in bankruptcy protection.
Robert Torok

Como se Dice Qualifying Activity?
I’m a long-time subscriber to Inside Flyer (and “Frequent!”).

I just re-read the article in the June issue, warning GlobalPass members with 1,000,000 miles to be aware of the dangers of expiration. I have had a long and unpleasant relationship with LatinPass, as a charter member, I think.

This is the only program that has ever expired a considerable number of my miles, and they were extremely unpleasant about it, I may add. They were expired in spite of recent (within three years) activity in my account. The reason given was that activity in the account did not count for purposes of keeping my miles alive! Only a flight on a member airline would have kept them active!

To add insult to injury, they refused to transfer my remaining, unexpired miles (5000 from American Express Membership Rewards) to HHonors, giving me some double-talk about Amex not allowing this, even though they were at that time LatinPass miles, not Amex miles.

I could go on and on about the attitude I got from these people, but I’ll spare you any more “gruesome details.” The relevant point is that 1,000,000-mile (or any) members of this program should be warned not to count on activity such as a mileage transfer or car rental to keep their miles alive. Take a flight on US Airways or another member airline, or at least call GlobalPass and find out what their current rules are.

Please pass on this warning. I’d hate to see any million milers lose out.
A.X. Weiss

No Credit Where Credit is Due
When staying at Starwood Hotels as a Preferred Member, Starwood Points are (supposedly) logged on the hotel’s invoice and credited to your Starwood account. Not so! If you travel continuously for months at a time, you do not know that you have not been credited. Certified Letters to Starwood with copies of hotel bills are not answered and points are not credited as agreed. For over $30,000 USD and over $1,000,000 Baht in Thailand for Starwood Hotels, I have received only the statement, “The invoices are over 180 days old and we can’t help you.” I would encourage your readers to stay at hotels other than Starwood if they expect to receive the agreed upon points.
Robert Johnson

Have a Code and a Smile
I can now understand why United is losing $2 million a day. The exchange reproduced below with the Mileage Plus “Customer Service” department says it all.

My question:
“I recently contacted your center by telephone to inquire about a promotion you are running between BTV and ORD (Code MPN 373). I am booked on your flight 1245 on 25 July returning on 29 July on this routing. I was calling to see whether my fare basis is eligible for the extra 1,000 miles being offered. If so, I was going to change the designation of my mileage on this flight from US Airways to United.

Your agent informed me that the flight was not eligible at all because it was a code share with US Airways. I argued that this could not be true, because all or virtually all of your ORD-BTV flights are code shares, but are operated by UA. She insisted I was wrong.

I just read your rules and it seems that only code shares operated by other carriers are ineligible for this promotion.

My question remains: Is my fare basis eligible? Also, please educate your customer service agents as to how to read these rules. A little courtesy might help, too.”

Mileage Plus’ response:
“Hello Mr. Sullivan,

It’s always good to hear from Mileage Plus members.

The promotion MPN373 is specific in which city destinations from Chicago are eligible for the promotion. Baltimore is not included in the list.

This promotion is not valid with any codeshare flight, which is probably why Baltimore is not included.

In this case, the fare basis of your ticket is not an issue since the promotion is not valid for your flight.

I hope I have answered your questions.”

I guess knowing the three-letter airport codes is not part of the job description.
Brian Sullivan

Editor’s note:
“BTV” is the code for Burlington, VT, not Baltimore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *