Wise Flyer – August, 21 2014

Wise Flyer – August, 21 2014

Question: American took away 2,000,000 miles from my daughter’s and my accounts alleging we were going to sell our miles. Their actual “rules” state, “… if sold, bartered …” and not,
“… if ‘attempted’ to sell.”
Do we have a legal standing to get our miles back?
N. K.

WiseFlyer: Interesting situation and one that typically ends up in the file folder titled … “He who makes the Gold makes the rules.”

Without access to all the information that makes these types of situations upheld in a court of law, my guess is that you do not have any legal standing. But before we assume my quick answer is not satisfactory, let’s look at the due process. Below you will find the two most appropriate sections of the AAdvantage program’s Terms of Service. They can be changed without notice and have been updated over the past few years as they now include the terms “… promising mileage credit or award tickets in exchange for support of a certain business, product or charity and/or participation in an auction, sweepstakes, raffle or contest.” For many years this has been a gray area and I’ve mentioned that one of the common practices of the past (and maybe still, today) was the “winky, winky” exchange of awards. “I can’t recall” if I ever did such a thing, but it can certainly help out when capacity control availability wasn’t included in the member’s fortune cookie.

I recall from some of my “pre-law” classes (a number of years ago) that “intent” is a necessary part of a crime, which in this case is the sale or bartering of your AAdvantage miles. It seems to me there were some Latin terms that went along with all this but let’s stay with the English language for now. In the matter of “intent” there is your “basic intent,” which is the easiest burden of proof because it often is just part of a completed crime. Then there is the “specific intent,” which is harder to prove but I believe is the intent standing on its own, that is, the crime was not completed or even begun.

So, in answering your question, there actually is a part of the law that addresses intent and part of that law includes possible liability or punishment–even when a crime is attempted but not completed.

Likely the key here is that you clearly are aware of (but let’s be fair, you may not have been aware at the time) the AAdvantage policy that states “… if sold, bartered …”

Now, even if there were no such parts of the law that address “intent,” let’s look at your possible redress. You would have to spend some sort of money to fund a legal challenge to the action by American Airlines. That may or may not be cheap. The tune of 2,000,000 miles likely means it is exempt from Small Claims Court and you are headed for a court with the judges wearing robes.
At most, you would be able to claim back only those miles that AAdvantage froze from your account without any penalty or damages. This is outlined in the second part of their Terms and Conditions as “… the member’s exclusive remedy shall be the issuance of the improperly denied credit, award or benefit if available, or such other alternative comparable benefit as determined by American, which shall have no additional liability whatsoever.”

Try as hard as I would like to find where you might have some ground to stand on in front of Judge Judy, I’m not sure this is the case. And as such, here’s a Latin phrase that may be fitting … Caveat venditor. (Translated into English as “let the seller beware.”)

The fine print:

* At no time may AAdvantage mileage credit or award tickets be purchased, sold or bartered (including but not limited to transferring, gifting or promising mileage credit or award tickets in exchange for support of a certain business, product or charity and/or participation in an auction, sweepstakes, raffle or contest). Any such mileage or tickets are void if transferred for cash or other consideration. Violators (including any passenger who uses a purchased or bartered award ticket) may be liable for damages and litigation costs, including American Airlines attorney’s fees incurred in enforcing this rule.

* American Airlines reserves the right to audit any and all accounts at any time and without notice to the member to ensure compliance with AAdvantage program rules and applicable conditions of carriage and/or tariffs. In the event that an audit reveals discrepancies or violations, the processing of AAdvantage awards, mileage accrual and summaries may be delayed until the discrepancies or violations are resolved satisfactorily to American Airlines. Pending such resolution, members may be prohibited from redeeming mileage credits for an AAdvantage award or ticket as determined in American’s sole discretion.

* If American Airlines and/or any AAdvantage participant improperly denies a member mileage credit, travel award or some other benefit, the member’s exclusive remedy shall be the issuance of the improperly denied credit, award or benefit if available, or such other alternative comparable benefit as determined by American, which shall have no additional liability whatsoever. In no event shall American Airlines or any AAdvantage participant be liable to any member, or anyone claiming through a member, for any direct, indirect or consequential damages or lost revenue or profits, arising out of American Airlines or any AAdvantage participant acts or omissions in connection with the AAdvantage program.

Question: How do I transfer miles from Hawaiian Airlines (transferred there through American Express Membership Rewards) to any other hotel or airline after our plans fell through?
Rich Fried

WiseFlyer: This a fairly common event and typically when it happens there are minimal problems … except when the redemption is based upon a conversion from another loyalty program, in this case American Express Membership Rewards. (Here’s an idea American Express: Might you consider, like other loyalty programs, charging a fee to “redeposit” an award when plans fall through? Why not negotiate with your partners for this option for the sake of customer service?)

So, what are your choices now? Not many. As for hotels and airlines, your only hotel choice with HawaiianMiles is Outrigger Hotels and that’s not likely handy if you are based on the mainland. For airlines, your choices are actually pretty good as HawaiianMiles allows redemption with American Airlines, JetBlue and Virgin America as well with several international airline partners. From these three choices domestically, if you can’t get there with them, it likely is not worth flying to. And the redemption value is medium. Not great, but not overly terrible. You can find booking information with these partners on the Hawaiian Airlines website.
There are two other easy choices, one not so great, the other pretty great. Let’s look at the not so great first. HawaiianMiles is a partner with Points.com and while there is no direct ability to exchange your HawaiianMiles for other hotel or airline currencies, they do offer a peer-to-peer exchange that allows you to trade with other members. The other member sets what his “price” will be to exchange loyalty currency. Currently, there is but a single “trade” available and that is to trade 10,000 HawaiianMiles for 5,000 AAdvantage miles. That is a terrible trade not only looking at the math, but because you can use HawaiianMiles directly for an award flight with American Airlines without any conversion (30,000 HawaiianMiles miles for an AA flight). Whereas with this “trade” on Points.com, you would have to redeem 50,000 HawaiianMiles miles for roughly the same. In this example, the blame is not on Points.com, rather it is on the other member willing to offer up his AAdvantage miles for such low value. My guess is that trades of this nature do take place because members don’t always have the time, and certainly not the knowledge, to know what the reasonable value should be and what their other options are.

As I mentioned, there is a second option–it involves hotels–and is a pretty great option for you. You can convert your HawaiianMiles into points in the Hilton HHonors program, which would give you access to over 4,100 Hilton-associated properties in 92 countries. For this conversion, a HawaiianMiles mile is worth 1.5 Hilton HHonors points. An example is 10,000 HawaiianMiles miles equals 15,000 HHonors points (equal to a free room night or almost a free room night in the budget class hotels of the Hilton brand), 20,000 HawaiianMiles miles equals 30,000 HHonors points (equal to a free room night at a respectable Hilton property … though not the Waldorf Astoria).

There are other far-flung options available to you, but by the time I explained them all to you, you would be back to wishing you’d never planned that trip to Hawaii in the first place.

I hope this helps and I hope that American Express is reading this and works on the “redeposit” idea, even if there is a fee.

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