Alaska Cancels Award Tickets, Citing Fraud — Are They Justified?

Filed Under: Alaska, Awards

Here’s an interesting situation that I’d like to share my take on, and I’m also curious what you guys think.

Airlines trying to stop mileage brokers

Generally speaking, loyalty programs have rules against selling or bartering your points. It’s not generally illegal, but rather violates the terms and conditions of the program.

Airlines go to great lengths to try and stop mileage brokers, as brokers are typically selling first and business class tickets at a discount, and airlines are worried it harms their revenue.

There are many ways airlines tackle these issues — most commonly they’ll close your account, or they may cancel award tickets you’ve issued that they suspect violated the rules.

What activity raises red flags?

As a general rule of thumb, here are some of the factors that may make airlines suspicious of your behavior. Before I list them, let me clarify that individually none of these should be a problem, but when you combine factors, it could set them off.

Some of these things include:

  • Creating a new frequent flyer account and then buying miles shortly thereafter
  • Buying a lot of miles in a short period of time
  • Issuing award tickets for last minute travel
  • Issuing award tickets primarily for people other than the account holder
  • Issuing award tickets for travel from or within Asia
  • Issuing award tickets for travel in first & business class on partner airlines

Again, individually all of those factors are fine, but when you combine some of those factors, your account is more likely to get flagged.

I do briefly want to clarify the last point. Airlines seem to have reason to believe there are lots of mileage brokers in Asia. For example, Alaska doesn’t let you issue award tickets within 72 hours of departure for intra-Asia travel for this very reason.

A reader had nine award tickets canceled

I get emails more often than I’d like from readers claiming a frequent flyer program canceled award tickets, claiming that the member violated rules.

This has been a legitimate problem with Flying Blue, at least in the past. However, beyond that, airline fraud departments are typically really, really good at their jobs, and a vast majority of the time they get these things right.

Back in the day I’d always engage when I got one of these emails. Unfortunately I found that in almost all cases, the person was in fact a mileage broker of some sort, and they just got caught and weren’t happy about it. No one likes getting caught, but I’ve also found that almost no one is upfront about the details, and it’s only after prying a bit that I find out why the situation happened.

That brings me to a comment recently left by a reader, who found her Alaska account blocked and her confirmed tickets canceled. Here was her initial comment:

I made a purchase of Alaska Mileage Plan and I redeem it for my family.
It went through smoothly and they have already made a reservation for hotel, attraction ticket, etc.
And suddenly I got the mail that my alaska account have been blocked and they will cancel all my redemption flight.
There is no information nor warning for limitation to redeem it for other traveler since I could reserve it for my family.
And I am very new to Alaska Mileage Plan program and after I saw your post about Alaska Mileage Plan I am interested to make an account and gift them a gift for flying.
Do you have any suggestions regarding this matter?

She sounded sincere, so I’ve been corresponding with her by email. Here’s what I’ve been able to ascertain, based on her side of the story:

  • She lives in Indonesia and opened her Mileage Plan account in April
  • In early May she purchased a total of 225,000 Alaska miles (150,000 miles plus a 50% bonus); that’s exactly the annual limit Alaska has on purchased miles
  • She booked a total of nine business class tickets across four different flights on Japan Airlines for travel fairly last minute
  • She isn’t one of the travelers, but rather she claims it’s her family members traveling, but their last names aren’t the same (as is often the case, especially in Indonesia)
  • A few days after booking she received an email saying all of her tickets were canceled, and they offered to refund her for the miles purchased

In response to this reader’s email to Alaska, the airline stated the following:

The terms of our program are clear that it is a personal account and not to be used to purchase tickets for others. Please review what you agreed to when you joined by going to our terms and conditions. Below is a portion of what you agreed to when you joined our Mileage Plan and in your case you are the travel arranger for other people.

Travel agents, travel arrangers and unauthorized brokers are not permitted to issue Mileage Plan tickets or to process or facilitate any other Mileage Plan transactions (including Mileage Plan account creation, account inquiries, and mileage or award ticket transfers) on behalf of others. If Alaska Airlines becomes aware that a member or a third party has misrepresented his/her identity in order to perform a Mileage Plan transaction, Alaska Airlines may, in its sole discretion, void the transaction. Miles or award tickets issued, transferred or obtained in violation of these conditions of membership are voidable, in Alaska Airlines’ sole discretion.

My take on this situation

The reason I’m writing about this situation is because I’m torn. Let’s assume for a moment that this reader is being honest, and isn’t a mileage broker. I didn’t ask her for birth certificates or proof of family or anything, because I’m not sure there’s anything I can actually do here to help, other than to share my thoughts.

Alaska’s rights in canceling tickets

Alaska claims in their terms that they can in their sole discretion both cancel Mileage Plan accounts, and also void tickets issued with miles. Personally I’m not 100% sure that would hold up in court. I could see the argument regarding closing a Mileage Plan account, but can they really at their sole discretion void a confirmed mileage ticket?

The point is, the airline is claiming that the policy isn’t “innocent until proven guilty,” but rather that they’re the judge and the jury.

Was the reader a “travel arranger?”

Let’s assume it’s true that the reader was in fact booking tickets for nine different family members, and that she’s not formally a mileage broker. Alaska’s assumption here seems to be that she was paid some sort of consideration for making this all happen out of her Mileage Plan account.

For example, she wouldn’t be violating the rules if she truly paid for all the miles and wasn’t expecting reimbursement from anyone. I know I’ve certainly bought miles for tickets for my parents and covered the cost, though I usually don’t do so for nine people at once.

But if she was being reimbursed by them, chances are she was getting something out of it, whether it’s taking a small cut, or even just the credit card points for the transaction. Where exactly this falls on the scale of being a “travel arranger” and violating the rules, I don’t know.

How this situation could have been avoided

I imagine none of this would have been an issue if several Mileage Plan accounts were instead opened, and that the account holders were also the passengers.

Bottom line

I’m really torn on this:

  • I totally see how she set off red flags in Alaska’s auditing department
  • This situation could have likely been avoided by creating individual accounts for the travelers

Assuming it’s true that she was booking award tickets for family, that still raises the question of whether she was violating the rules. It’s not entirely clear, but then again, Alaska seems to think they can unilaterally make that decision.

What do you guys think — based on what we know, is Alaska in the right here, or does the reader have a legitimate gripe?

Comments
  1. Could easily have been avoided if someone in the traveling group were the ones who signed up for Alaska Mileage Plan

  2. I’m assuming she’s never set foot on an AS flight. She’s a total fraud. It was rather nice that Alaska offered to reimburse her for the miles purchased.

  3. “travel arrangers … are not permitted to issue Mileage Plan tickets … on behalf of others.”

    Wasn’t that exactly what she was doing?

  4. Mileage brokerage has plagued the Brazilian market, drying up award availability and creating inflation in the last few years.

    Thankfully, the award companies created limits as to the number of people per year in whose name you can issue tickets using miles from your account. Something like 24 different people, so it’s nothing unreasonable.

    Brokers are whining, but legitimate users are relieved.

  5. 9 one way intra-asia business class tickets with random last names and the account holder not traveling? This person is a total fraud. I’m surprised AS hasn’t blocked new sign ups for account holders outside of North America.

  6. CDKing… now that is a good point. What are the odds that a legitimate passenger based in CGK, LHR, JNB, SAO or even MEX will ever buy a revenue ticket on AS? At best they would be flying AS partners and redeem on AS partners. Is that in AS’ best interest?

  7. 9 tickets ?
    Let’s say you have a large family why wouldn’t you show some kind of proof
    they are indeed family and they the. Alaska folks have it wrong?
    Something still smells a bit rotten in Denmark Indonesia etc
    But innocent until proven guilty
    Personally I’d like to see Alaska freeze the ticket initially rather than cancel to be certain
    and not a knee jerk thing like KLM

  8. I don’t like seeing people buying into award space, that’s not what it’s for. It’s for rewarding AS frequent flyers.

  9. 9 tickets does not pass the sniff test. The chances of this not being fraud are exceedingly low. Alaska was completely in the right.

  10. If she has clean hands she should file a complaint with the Department of Transportation over the cancellation of tickets. While Alaska says they have sole discretion here, and while DOT has in the past improperly ignored complaints regarding frequent flyer programs, the federal government absolutely has the power to review Alaska’s discretion.

  11. I am disappointed with some of the comments here. As someone who lives part time in Indonesia, I can attest that Indonesians do not traditionally have a surname tradition and many Indonesians do not use surnames (their names will appear as John/JohnMR on tickets). Thus it’s common to have people with different last names from their family.

    So what if she’s never set foot on an AS flight? I’m sure many who purchase LifeMiles never have flown on Avianca, and the same would be true with AS.

  12. Kind of unnerving. In a culture obsessed with “security” (whatever that is) this sort of thing is bound to happen. The premise seems to be that it’s better to try to convict every guilty person, than to protect the innocent from undeserved punishment. “Sad”.

    I book only for friends in my “flock”. I’m the one person in my social circle that understands this game; the rest are “civilians” as I call them. I am not a broker. I’ve used my Alaska account for my own travel, bought miles, earned through credit card spend. I hope my friends’ bookings will survive scrutiny/paranoia. But this post unnerves me because I do the following:

    Buying a lot of miles in a short period of time
    Issuing award tickets for last minute travel
    Issuing award tickets primarily for people other than the account holder
    Issuing award tickets for travel from or within Asia
    Issuing award tickets for travel in first & business class on partner airlines

    The only one on the list that doesn’t apply to me is recent account creation. My travelers don’t share my surname or address. All travel is on partners in premium cabins. Most is last minute. Sometimes I travel with one of them, usually not.

    How much “security” can we absorb, before all convenience is gone? I see the problem from Alaska’s point of view. But since I’m genuinely innocent, it’s frustrating to anticipate punishment like a last-minute cancellation.

  13. @Dmodemd No, award space is NOT “for” awarding AS frequent flyers. It’s for absolutely anyone who participates in the Program without violating the Terms. Anyone.

    @rayray +1

    @deltahater Good News! You don’t have to worry about Alaska’s “best interest”. That’s their responsibility, which is why They Write The Rules, one of which is Total Discretion. Don’t be anxious about their share value and the evil people who pay good money for their Points when Alaska begs us all to buy them. They’re a corporation; they’re not gonna love you back.

  14. I’ve never set foot on an AS flight, but I’ve booked award flights on partners with their program. Am I also a fraud? Given how AS sells miles to all comers with big bonuses constantly it would seem that they don’t care whether you actually fly on their metal or not.

  15. Curious that this innocent person didn’t provide one shred of evidence for her case.

    If it were me pleading my case to lucky, I would try to gather anything that showed my story was true: emails, a pic with my 9 “family members,” my LinkedIn profile showing a job which explains how I could spend $5k on miles for other people no problem, etc.

    Obviously none of those are conclusive, but if it were legit, I would have at least several times to show that these are indeed family members.

  16. If award space was just for flyers of a particular airline, why do they release credit cards that earn miles, and prolifically too!?

  17. Obviously it’s hard to prove a negative, and things can be doctored, but If she came back with: “see, I’m a high profile attorney in Jakarta (proof) and my family here asked me to send them on a nice trip (screenshot or email), so I did some research and found Alaska, etc.”

    It would swing the pendulum from 90% chance of lying to maybe like 40 or 50%

  18. @rayray: How do Indonesians account for surnames on passports and official documents? Is there no marker for familial lineage? Seems iffy that someone from Indonesia could just saunter onto a plane and into a foreign country with their “full name” being MR John John because “that’s what’s printed on their ticket”. Could you clarify your statement?

  19. My AS Mileage account was recently hacked! 300,000 miles were used to purchase 2 First Class tickets–Toronto to LHR to Accra, Ghana! Purchased day of travel and charged fees to 2 credit cards! By the time I noticed it travel had been completed. Fraud is rampant! Good for Alaska Airlines for being diligent!

  20. @AdamR: In Indonesia they use last name and not surname. Several people use surname as family name, but there’s also a lot of people without any last name. It is even possible that siblings don’t share the same last name. Hence, there is no marker for familial lineage for sure. The only way to know whether they are in the same family is to use something they call “Family Card”.

  21. @AdamR

    it’s the name listed in their birth certificate and all forms of identification. I had a friend whose name was literally SURYA SURYA on her passport. Tons of my Indonesian friends have completely different names from their siblings and parents. It’s just a cultural thing. Plus afaik a lot of passports in southeast asia don’t have a first name and surname column. In Malaysia and Indonesia there’s only one NAME column.

  22. @AdamR
    That’s just policy. Most Indonesians don’t have a family name and they only have one name, and the travel system has decided that if you fall under that umbrella, you put your name under both first and last name: so for example, someone named John would put John under both first and last, so it would show up as Mr John John. It would of course have to match their passport.

  23. Clearly AS in selling miles is doing so to enhance (manage) their business prospects – earnings and cash flow. I also suspect that the agreements between AS and their partners require in some form that they ensure redemptions are for their “flyers” vs. agents circumventing the partner’s sales channels. Plus I do believe that AS does owe its frequent fliers some assurance (optics) that availability is used by legitimate AS accountholders. The problem is how to do this policing to accomplish these goals when the “full story” is seldom available. Based on the above, I think AS was correct to cancel the tickets and also correct to offer the refund. I am sure that with this same money, the purchaser can acquire tickets through regular sales channels. Too many coincidences – plausible yes, but common sense suggests not so likely. Also begs the question of how the purchaser learned to open an AS account – possible they follow bloggers or have a relative who does, yes, or perhaps they paid for information on how to do this, in which case it seems the same as buying through a broker.

  24. Were these long haul flights (it sounds like they were not)? Why wouldn’t the individual just buy the tickets for family through Japan Airlines with cash?

  25. I live in Indonesia and can attest to the reality that most individuals in families do not share a surname on their passports and birth certificates. Even if fraud is prevalent we should still not turn a blind eye in case of the existence of a truth teller. This is what all good justice systems and means of determining right from wrong are based on–innocent until proven guilty. Thanks for writing about this, Ben. I hope more clarity can be seen in this case.

  26. I had my account blocked temporarily after I used Alaska miles to book an award flight for my dad last year on JAL F. My mom and I was on the same flight, I used BA Avios to book my own ticket, using AA miles to book for my mom. It was a last minute change since award space opened up as initially we were all booked using BA Avios. Although this person’s story may seem like there are red flags, it’s also possible that this is legit and it sucks to have tickets cancelled last minute.
    As for those commenting on how the award program is for their own frequent flyer, that’s total BS. Some of the sweet spots in award travel include transferring miles from credit cards to programs associated with airlines that people don’t fly often otherwise, like Virgin Atlantic to book Delta, Lifemiles to book Lufthansa, etc.

  27. I find it odd that this is even a thing. All major airlines sell miles and often with a bonus or discount. If I go to Safeway or Kroger or Public and buy bananas on sale for 35 cents a pound, the grocery company never questions who will eat them. If airlines are losing money by selling miles, they should either raise the price of the miles or stop selling them. It occurs to me that no one ever got an email from Alaska Airlines saying, “Our miles redemption department noticed that you recently purchased an award ticket, but you could have gotten a better value if you had adjusted your routing and schedule slightly. Therefore, we are refunding 43% of the miles used to compensate for the excess profit we didn’t earn.” I am confident that if I backed my truck up to the supermarket and bought every single discounted banana, the store manager would help me load them up and never say, “Hey buddy, I hope your not reselling these bananas for a profit, because if you are, I’ll have stop selling them to you.”.

  28. Shouldn’t AS, at some point in this process, at least if there is time before departure, to ask relevant questions before actually cancelling the booking? At least that way, the (granted few) “innocents” are protected and have an opportunity to prove their “innocence”?

  29. @Lucky: You mention booking tickets for others such as your parents.
    Have you ever:
    “booked a total of nine business class tickets across four different flights on Japan Airlines for travel fairly last minute”
    I doubt it.
    I doubt there would have been any problem had she (or your readers) booked flights slowly over a period of time.
    Seems to me she was acting as a travel arranger regardless of whether she was being recompensed or for whom she was arranging travel.

  30. Oh, come on!!! Total fraud. So completely and laughably obvious.

    Don’t refund anything. Throw the book at them all. This is why everything in the world sucks now – because scammers, liars and cheats think they can get away with theft and they rule the world (see” The White House”). A lifetime ban on AS and JL for all the participants (the “broker” and all the passengers) is totally justified. Throw the book at them all.

    Lucky, you are soft-peddling this because you have a direct, clear, financial interest in this game. Stop pretending you do not. You are 100% ethically compromised and have no place passing judgement on this.

    These scumbag brokers need to be stopped (worth noting: every single blogger seems to have one, folks….what does that tell you)?

  31. @Brant
    You have obviously never shopped at a major discount pharmacy and seen various products with stickers that state: “For purchase only at XYZ Pharmacy”

    And many stores do limit the quantity of sale items that can be purchased — primarily to keep the items in stock as they are a loss leader intended to bring customers into the store.

  32. Alaska should pay more attention their less-than-adequate award search engine than worrying about someone in Indonesia who did everything by the book to fly her family!

    AS is the one that invented its own program, written the T&C, sold the miles, and allowed the space and the bookings. They should own this & eat it!

  33. This is fraud—no doubt. None of her story makes sense….we’ve booked award tickets for family members for years (even those without same last name….) and never once did it ‘smell’ like this outlandish story.

    Having traveled the world for more than 20 years I can say one thing–trust your gut. If your ‘spider sense’ says something feels like a scam–it is.

  34. It’s hard to judge without personally knowing all the facts, but given she booked 9 Business Class tickets using a bunch of miles purchased in a new account, and was not actually one of the travelers, I’m inclined to side with Alaska Airlines. Way too many flags.

  35. As an Indonesian reader of the blog I find many of the comments insensitive and probably comes from ignorance and applying US/ western world standard to the rest of the world. YES, many of us do not have family name. And YES, our surname can be very different even among siblings and spouses, as it is not a tradition for females to change their last name after getting married. My mom has been married for 35+ years and her last name is different to mine. What’s more, people can even choose whatever they like as their surname, doesn’t have to be the same with their siblings, and I have quite a few friends whose parents chose a different surname as it ‘fits’ better with the chosen first name.. and last but not least, we have big families in Indonesia, and unlike the US, people generally keep very strong ties with their relatives, and often travel together in big groups on holidays, even overseas.

    For my holiday next month, I will travel with my parents, siblings and spouses, that’s already 7 people which is pretty small for Indo standard. And with the average Indonesians pretty clueless about miles and good deals, in general probably only 1 person is the designated person for doing all the bookings, which I did in my case and therefore I can relate to. So yeah, I’d say that this pass my smell test. Good to see a fellow Indonesian learning and trying to apply his/her knowledge on miles.

  36. Your bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Multiple partner tickets for various non-account holders on flights that don’t look like a family reunion at a destination will raise alarm bells that a legitimate user could overcome by opening family members their own accounts.

    If there are unreimbursed losses from prepaid hotels or other arrangements tied to these tickets, a DoT complaint can help sort that out. Otherwise, I think this is a good lesson for the legitimate traveler and a good warning for “travel arrangers.”

  37. To me this is like scalping concert tickets and should be permitted. Alaska sold miles and received exactly the cash purchase price they demanded. I personally don’t believe Alaska should thereafter be able to control what the purchaser does with his or her points. If Alaska doesn’t want its points to be brokered, then get out of the business of selling points.

  38. The biggest problem is that she was not one of the people flying. I have booked many tickets for travel with in Asia for me my wife and members of her family but I was always traveling with them. United miles for travel on Singapore airlines. British avios for travel on cathy. Never a problem because I was traveling with them

  39. This one from Indonesia is too greedy. Redeemed four tickets is marginal risky, not to mention 9 at the same time excluding herself.

  40. Good for Alaska. Even accepting that she legitimately bought the tickets herself for other family members I feel she is acting as an “in kind” broker as she is not a traveler on any of the itineraries. Glad they canceled the tickets. Can’t ruin one of the best programs out there.

  41. Indonesian Jussie Smollett

    Either way, true or fake, I agree that too many red flags have been raised. Definitely justifiable. I also don’t see evidence that AS should believe or anything to convince.

    Just like when your a black person holding a gun next to a dead man. Did it or not, you are already guilty.

    AS doesn’t have to be culturally aware of a market they don’t serve.
    Same as I don’t blame USA for every Indian FNU.

  42. And by the way, do your children a favor, give them proper names if you think they want to work or live outside Indonesia. Hint: Cement.

  43. It might be legit but I doubt it, too many flags. Just like the Delta agents that got fired for selling upgrades to Seoul not too long ago. They got caught and got what they deserved.

  44. All ”Travel agents, travel arrangers and unauthorized brokers” have family. So…being family does not preclude this person from being a a travel agent, arranger or broker. It is possible to be both.

    Indonesia is not unique in this. My daughters, my sister, my sisters-in-law and my mother-in-law all have different last names. If I gifted them a women-only trip, it would be the same situation as Lucky’s correspondent.

  45. Opened account in April
    Bought miles
    Bought tickets for 9 OTHER people

    Yea… something very fishy about that.

  46. Scam, don’t be sucked in by her sad story. When points and miles people help family members, we help them open their own account, then show them how to transfer and or buy miles and redeem those miles for a flight in their name. Beyond that, this scammer did a good job finding 9 open business class seats! Wow, that’s tough to do.

  47. Yea so what if Indonesian families are big and don’t have similar names. Normal booking pattern would be to put all 9 in same cabin and the exact same flight to the same destination. It’s not buy a ton of miles on a brand new account for a close in flight in a premium cabin and book the extended family in business class on different flights on different days. It doesn’t make sense. This is one of the reasons AS has been blocking T-3 intra-asia bookings for at least a year now.

    @Dave, so yea punish the many that actually use the program as designed. So what if Ticketmaster’s of the world can’t stop scalpers, that’s not Alaska’s problem. Alaska is in a unique situation where they can and they should to protect their revenues and their partnership agreements.

  48. Fraud for sure.

    On a side note I would like to express my sadness regarding comments that AS should restrict membership to North Americans only. As an Australian 75K member, the AS programme has redirected my North American flights away from American Airlines. I now exclusively fly AS where possible.

    There are legitimate AS revenue producing members out there who are not USA based.

  49. Lucky – you opened a can of smelly worms with this one! However, it’s the rampant prejudice that stinks

    To start with most premium awards only become available on AS last minute. CX F for example.

    AS frequent flyer program is a major profit centre.

    In most of Asia names are random to the extent that in Singapore when I lived there only fingerprints were valid for most banking transactions. And families are large.

    There is always a possibility that the op is a reseller but definitely not a certainty.

    If AS just cancelled without decent research then BAD on them. Possibly there is more to this to support AS decision but if they just did it because they could then it stinks!

  50. The comments on stories like this always remind me how utterly ignorant the average American is about, well, almost anything. Incredibly depressing.

    You were specifically told that Indonesians often don’t use surnames like the US does, you are online so have access to any information you could possibly want yet you STILL don’t grasp the incredibly simple concept!?

    When I’m often asked how on Earth a buffoon like Trump could become president, I should show them things like this – it starts to make sense very quickly!

  51. Lucky, I guess you need to write more about miles brokers! It seems like it’s a big issue with many and it would be interesting to understand all sides.

    In one I read, airlines sell miles to raise money. Why would they care who uses the miles?

    In another rewards should be made available to those who actually fly with the specific airlines.

    And for those in Indonesia, I don’t believe anyone on here is deliberately being a racist as few mentioned. But you don’t truly know if this is a broker or a family member. If this truly is a family member, I hope she was able to clarify it with Alaska. If she’s a broker that’s the risk she took.

  52. @callum, you complain about the, “ignorance of the average American” because some commenters didn’t read all the comments before doing likewise. Did you ever think some of the comments citing Indonesian culture were written by Americans and some of the comments you complain about perhaps were NOT written by Americans? Never mind that, do you think the “average” Brit, Indian, Chinese, Australian is that much more enlightened? I’ve traveled quite a bit and ignorant people are not exclusive to the US. The difference between you and me is that I don’t rush to judgement based on my OWN stereotypes. And no, I’m not American.

  53. @Jeff @Roman.
    Same page here. 9 people travelling and the owner is not one of them. Total scammer. Alaska need to have a fine line maximum people travelling and Alaska Mileage member need to be one of them. Kudos Alaska.

  54. I feel their is double standards at play here. The airline sells points with a bonus to attract revenue and don’t question who buys them because that’s money IN the bank. The airline also sells seats to to travel agents/travel brokers at a discount who do their best to sell for a profit and that is also money IN the bank. A ‘points broker’ buys in bulk from airlines/FFprograms which is also money IN the bank. The points broker buys to increase award purchase power and is usually very good a it and sells their services of finding award seats for a profit or is the ‘go- to-person’ in a group. This is different to the being scammed as @Lin S was which is without your knowledge or consent. If the passport matches the ticket holder what is the issue with how the ticket was obtained? Whats the difference between the travel agent/travel broker and the points broker??

  55. It’s one of those things where we hear the side of the person affected but we don’t know the full details from AS side.
    Seems like the Indonesian person is relatively new to the miles/points game and is unaware of the American culture or how AS identifies possible fraud scenarios. I say just take it as a learning lesson and move on. Next time, travel with your family or have one of the family members traveling be the one who buys the AS miles and redeem them.

  56. These are called “Loyalty” programs for a reason. Family or no family, she is behaving very clearly as a broker. AS is totally acting within their discretion based on there t&C’s. Don’t like it? Find another “Loyalty” program. No issue with AS. What would you do in their shoes if this was your company??

  57. @Aztec – I didn’t assume they were ignorant because they hadn’t read the other comments… The article specifically states this is normal in Indonesia, and even if it hadn’t, them stating something as true that they didn’t realise actually isn’t is the very definition of ignorance…

    Do I think there are ignorant people in Britain, India, China and Australia? Absolutely. I wouldn’t compare them directly to India and China as they aren’t comparable countries, but there is not a shadow of a doubt in my mind they are more ignorant than Brits and Australians. Numerous polls and studies confirm this – it’s not a lazy stereotype.

  58. I live part time in Indonesia, and have many Indonesian friends. The majority of Indonesians have only one name, and it is not a family name. When my friends have more than one name, often none of them are family names. Not having more than one name sometimes makes it difficult just buying an international ticket for one with money or credit card. The rest of the world is not set up for one name. I would say that if this woman bought 9 tickets to different places on different dates, it is probably a scam. It nine tickets went to the same destination at the same time, it is probably not a scam.

  59. I work in fraud, and Alaska likely identified this as fraud through a series of signals that brought this particular issue to the surface. We only have this random person’s side of the story and not the full set of facts upon which Alaska made their final decision.

    While I respect Ben, I find it naive of him to take some anonymous reader’s word considering he admitted he gets many emails from (obvious) brokers.

    As for Alaska, it would be policy not to reveal the source data for their decision as not to empower fraudsters to reverse engineer the signal set.

    Indonesia may very well have been identified as a high risk geo for this activity. In my business, Israel is a high risk region for fraud, and while I’ve been called anti-Semitic due to this focus, the truth is that a higher % of fraud comes from Israel for whatever reason (I just care that it is high risk, not about the social-economic reasons why).

    A complete non-story, in my opinion.

  60. I suspect this could be one of those CGK-NRT-SIN routes.

    Personally did this route for 2 pax (including myself) earlier this yesr purely with discounted miles. Did the segments and was all fine.

    When I wanted to buy the same route for the 2nd time again with discounted miles. Came across a notice about not allowing me to buy the tickets online despite having sufficient miles.

    Phoned Alaska and was transferred to someone that said my account was suspect of Fraud. Reminded me that only the account holder and family members could travel.

    Made a verbal assurances that it was me, my wife and mother in law (wife and I were on the first purchase) and they unblocked my account immediately. Pheeew.

  61. @Eskimo Do your children a favor and teach them the history of their ancestors raping enslaving and murdering in foreign lands for the sake of money. The aviation community is one of the most racist I have ever had the misfortune to be a part of. Proper names my ass. Your peoples names are some of the dullest, most meaningless, stupidest names I ever heard.

  62. If you paid for the miles, you should be able to do wathever you want with them, it’s your property.

  63. The root of the problem goes back to the greediness of the airlines, especially AS because it is always AS that aggressively sell its miles at discount then block the buyer from using it.

    AS never puts up a notice on how the purchased miles are restrictive in usage. It just wants to rake in the free money from selling something it creates from thin air. Then once these miles are used to redeem partner awards which grasp, actually cost AS money, then AS put in all sorts of obstacles. This is not limited to the Indonesia purchase but we have read about such all over FT over the years, the most noticeable places incl tickets for travel originating from China, to the less extent, from Australia.

    Those argue about “loyalty programs” need to get a grip how airlines treat the miles – it is a merchandise, and the mileage programs are the MOST profitable business unit among US3 as well as AS. Those who have no clue should learn how to read a financial reports and understand the profitability of miles. These days of miles “earned” are all from 3rd parties such as bank credit cards, portal purchases or outright purchases with bonus, very little % is earned from flying – the days of earning miles 1 to 1 on distance flown have long gone, probably over 5 years by now.

    If AS does not want to pay for the partner awards with discounted miles, (that upset its money-making scam) then it needs to either put out clear restrictions on how those discounted miles can be use, or outright stopped selling miles year long with bonus. Guess we would never see that happens!

  64. As to whether or not this person was a scammer I can’t say. It’s nice that they reimbursed her. HOWEVER, the topic of whether Alaska should be the judge and jury with no checks and balances on their fraud department is scary one. Have you ever actually read thru their terms and conditions? You could have been a loyal a customer for years and they will shut you down if a red flag is raised based on those crazy T&C.

    There is another situation where they shut down an MVP gold75 status account (the highest status) with 200k+ EARNED miles with no notice because they found discrepancies in the points from partner airlines. It seems that if their system or employees didn’t catch this, how is the responsibility put onto the customer? Regardless, they claimed it was a violation of the terms and conditions citing some ambiguous language from the contract ending in their ability to shut down anyone’s account for any reason at anytime they deem fit.

    Seems like a greedy money grab and a big power trip to me. But that’s why I don’t fly Alaska.

  65. @Poster – Do you know what the word bigot means? It doesn’t mean “anyone saying things I don’t like”…

    As I said, it’s been demonstrated many times that Americans are more ignorant than many other nations. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s factual given it’s incredibly difficult to objectively measure something like that, but it’s certainly not an unreasonable view to hold.

    If this is hurting your ego, I’ll also point out that Americans generally being more ignorant does not mean that you, or any individual American, is necessarily ignorant at all.

  66. @callum.

    Alaska does not fly outside of North America, so it needs to apply non-American value to their fraud detection?

    Is Alaska airline racists for not serving Indonesian food, Chinese food or Malaysian onboard?

  67. “The terms of our program are clear that it is a personal account and not to be used to purchase tickets for others.”
    Whether she is a broker/reseller or not ,she tried,Alaska Airlines said No then reimbursed her and that’s the end of the story.
    However if she wants to ,she can buy 9 Business Class tickets for her family/friends etc with AS partner Airlines with Cash only…..

  68. In Vietnam as well, women don’t change their surnames after marriage. It’s actually very common across many different cultures.

    The likelihood of 9 family travelers not having the same surnames DOES exist, though that’d be much less likely in the US.

    Basing the decision to close an account on that alone is quite ignorant, as are some of the commenters in this thread. What’s the point of caveating yourself that you don’t know if this woman was a fraud or not (because no one actually does), then praising Alaska for shutting her down? Protectionism at its finest.

  69. Oh this was definitely fraud. The JAL-J-Class-IntraAsia-Redemption-Using-AS-Miles scheme was discussed at a popular Indonesian miles blog. I am an Indonesian reader, by the way.

  70. An AS agent told me it’s not just Asia. A friend of mine’s mother also works in the fraud department of AS. Some of her stories are very interesting. Apparently they’re having a lot of issues with people in West Africa buying miles and redeeming tickets in F on EK with stolen credit cards and booking the tickets last minute. AS ends up footing a large bill for this stuff, so they are extremely vigilant about award ticket fraud.

    Hell, I’m MVP75K since 2003 and I had my account locked because I was redeeming a lot of last minute awards to Asia in F. (Though I suspect it was agents mad at me on Twitter)

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