This is a public service announcement: Do not buy Alaska Miles through their Fly and Buy program and then cancel your tickets! If you do, read on to see what might await you.
A few weeks ago, I decided to book myself a trip on Emirates First Class from Bangkok to the USA via Dubai. The cost of the ticket was 100,000 miles and $38 in taxes through Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
I had about 49,000 miles in my account so I needed another 51,000. After searching for availability, I managed to snag some seats on two A380 segments. As ecstatic as I was, I didn’t have enough miles and the closing date on my Alaska Air credit card had already passed. (No manufactured spending for me!)
I browsed the web and came across an article that was written by The Points Guy. In it, he states how to buy Alaska Airlines miles anytime at a rate of 2.1 cents. I went ahead, followed his advice, and in the course of a week I purchased 5 tickets and received 50,000 miles. I ticketed my Emirates flight and then a few days later, I refunded my paid tickets.
Life was good and I spent the past few days in beautiful Koh Samui. (Report Coming soon) When I reached the airport in Bangkok to check in, the Emirates agent was having trouble locating my E-Ticket number. After about 15-20 minutes of talking to her reservations desk, she advised me to call Alaska Airlines and see if they could re-issue the ticket. It wouldn’t of been a problem if I wasn’t in Bangkok and if it wasn’t 1 AM at Alaska Air headquarters. With 2 hours left before my flight departed, I turned on my cell phone and bit the roaming voice charges ($3.49/minute for 43 minutes).
After miraculously getting an agent on the phone, he instructed me to give a new ticket number to the counter agent. At that moment, the agent inputted the ticket number and saw that everything was in order. She then proceeded to check me in and again had a problem issuing my boarding pass. The Alaska agent put me on hold and transferred me to a reservations specialist. The agonizing 20 minute hold felt like forever but finally, another Alaska agent came on the phone and started to address my issue. She looked into my reservation and all she had to say was “Oh my, give me one second please.” As if I wasn’t already going crazy, I stayed on hold for another 15 minutes.
The phone agent came back online and informed me that Alaska Airlines had canceled my ticket due to fraud with the Fly and Buy miles program. At this moment, I really started going crazy and started looking for space on other airlines to get me home. She informed me that if I wanted to take the original flights that I was scheduled to take, I would have to pay the additional fee to make the mileage purchase “legal.” The amount that I had to pay in the end was around $267.50 and I couldn’t understand why it was that price because any way I did the math, it just didn’t add up. Either way, I didn’t ask and didn’t really want to. I was extremely apologetic and told the agent that it wouldn’t happen again. Afterwards, she told me that the department had tried to reach me to no avail, which again was my fault as my phone was turned off.
I paid the $267 and almost instantly, the Emirates agent was able to check me in. I didn’t hang up the phone till I had the boarding passes in hand and when I did, I had a huge sigh of relief. Not only did Alaska Air NOT ban my account but they also managed to re-book me onto the same flight after canceling the ticket.
This really goes to show the extent at which Alaska monitors their mileage program. In addition, it will make me think twice before I do anything crazy like that again! To be fair, I quote TPG as saying “This was test case and I don’t expect it to raise any red flags, but that said, I wouldn’t encourage you to go out and make 10 refundable reservations all at once and purchase the maximum 10,000 miles with each or the airline might cut you off.”
I’m not saying I am a victim because whatever they did was actually correct. However, as wrong as it is to buy miles like this, they don’t explicitly state on the offer page that you can’t do it:
- Fly & Buy Miles are only offered during the initial purchase of a revenue ticket at alaskaair.com.
- Fly & Buy Miles are not offered when purchasing award reservations.
- Fly & Buy Miles are credited to your Mileage Plan™ account separately from miles earned by taking a qualifying flight.
- Prices are stated in U.S. Dollars and are subject to applicable taxes, currently 7.5% for U.S. residents. Taxes vary for residents of other countries.
- Fly & Buy Miles and associated taxes are nonrefundable.
- Purchased Fly & Buy Miles do not count toward qualification for Mileage Plan™ MVP® or MVP® Gold status.
- Fly & Buy Miles will generally post to your Mileage Plan™ account immediately after the transaction is complete but may take up to two business days.
- The Mileage Plan™ Conditions of Membership apply to Fly & Buy Miles.
Obviously, the Mileage Plan Conditions of Membership they link to include a clause allowing them, like other programs, to close an account or rescind miles in response to general issues of fraud or manipulation. Let my experience be a warning to anyone considering a similar approach. A few of my friends told me afterwards that I should’ve flown the flight first and then canceled the tickets. That could be a way to get around their detection system — but next time, count me out.
Has anyone else ever had this happen to them?