Every now and then I get a question from a reader that is so important that I write a post about it. If you already know not to do this, great, but clearly there is a thriving business in buying and selling miles. I want to protect the few people who might not realize it’s a bad idea.
Ali sent me this email last night:
I ran into different web sites who sell airline points for as low as 1.75 cents. I contacted the airline and I was told it is not legal to do so, since all of our points have to go through us and you can buy only 25,000 per calendar year. How can few websites such as [redacted] and others sell miles?
Is it OK to buy from them?
How do they get transferred to my account?
What if the airline finds out and I already booked a trip and I am ready to get into airplane and they tell me you have to pay full fare?
He’s a smart guy for contacting the airline and me to ask if this was legit before handing over the money. But the answer should be obvious: you wouldn’t buy candy from a stranger on the corner outside your school, so why would you buy miles from a stranger on the internet?
The first thing to learn about loyalty programs is that you don’t own the miles and points. It’s a program run by the airline/hotel/bank, and they get final say on almost everything. If you want to play the game and earn some free travel, you play by their rules. If you don’t like those rules, no one’s forcing you to participate. That often means there are limits on how you can buy more miles and at what price.
I’ve been shut down once before for (unknowingly) breaking a rule and receiving Ultimate Rewards points from my mother, when apparently only spouses may transfer points. I was lucky that Chase let me keep my points by transferring them to another card. It still cancelled the original card. Tahsir was stopped at check-in when his award ticket was booked using miles he purchased from the airline. He had used a loophole to buy those miles at a discount the airline didn’t intend to offer, and fortunately the airline was willing to let him keep his award ticket if he paid the difference between that and the normal price.
This blog and others sometimes suggest ideas for earning miles quickly and cheaply by pushing the boundary. However, I try to avoid actually stepping over the line. If an airline determines that you are flying on a ticket booked using illegitimate miles, some possible outcomes are:
- A lifetime ban from the airline, even if you pay cash or use miles from a different program.
- Revoking any miles you still have, as well as progress toward elite status.
- Canceling your ticket, perhaps at check-in or boarding when you have no other options.
The best case scenario is that the airline finds out and gives you the option to pay for your ticket or buy the miles legally, as in Tahsir’s case, but this would be considered generous.
Travel is a great experience that everyone should strive for. Miles and points are a way to travel more often and at lower cost. But if you find yourself needing to buy miles from another source then I suggest you re-evaluate the situation. You’re not expected to wake up every morning like some bloggers do and jet off to another fabulous destination. You don’t need to always fly in business or first class. Sometimes you just need to buy the ticket or travel less often.
Don’t burn your relationship with an airline. Playing by the rules can be rewarding for years to come.