Bizarre: Alaska Mileage Plan Terms Prevent People From Helping You Book Awards

Filed Under: Alaska, Awards

Airlines go great lengths to stop mileage brokers, which are people who buy and sell miles. While buying and selling miles isn’t illegal, it does violate the terms of just about every loyalty program out there. As a result, loyalty programs often audit accounts and take action when they suspect people are buying and selling miles.

Hilary at TravelSort notes that her Alaska Mileage Plan account was locked because she was suspected of being a mileage broker, though they offered to reactive the account if she agreed to the terms & conditions of the program going forward. So she read the terms carefully (which I’m guessing 99% of us don’t do), and noticed something I haven’t seen before. Specifically, the Alaska Mileage Plan terms & conditions include the following:

“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.”

This is an interesting precedent that I don’t think we’ve officially seen from any other loyalty program. Alaska Mileage Plan is saying that “travel arrangers are not permitted to issue tickets or to process or facilitate any other Mileage Plan transactions.”

There are plenty of award booking services out there (including one we’ve had for years), where people will help you redeem miles in exchange for a fee. This doesn’t typically violate program rules, since you’re not buying or selling miles, but rather are paying someone for advice. That’s very different.

Alaska it putting travel arrangers in the same category as brokers here, which is bizarre. Now, in practice they don’t really have a way of enforcing this. That’s to say that you’re still allowed to have a friend book on your behalf, but just not a “travel arranger,” which seems like an odd distinction to make. Would a (legitimate) friend who helps you book a ticket become a “travel arranger” by virtue of having helped you book your ticket? 😉

  1. Lucky,

    I assume that the map on the “Trip Reports” page shows the countries that you’ve been to. It’s a really nice feature that I haven’t seen in any other blogs; however, I’m wondering why it shows that you’ve been to North Korea…

  2. “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 [caps emphasis mine].”

    I’m interpreting this as award booking person A aren’t allowed to use THEIR OWN ACCOUNT to book for client B for B’s travel needs, but person A providing advice for booking B’s needs with B’s account and B’s miles *should* be fine ?

  3. Typical CYA language in the eventuality they need to use it against something or someone when all other options fail.

  4. Narrowly read, this means that, for example, a husband couldn’t redeem miles for a ticket for his wife, whether the miles come from his own account or hers.

  5. I don’t see anything wrong with selling advice to people on how to use their own frequent flier miles. As for buying miles, I almost got scammed once on a “great deal” for biz class to Europe, the broker (or “huckster”) tried to sell me someone else’s miles and redeem them, with no guarantee that I wouldn’t get turned away at the airport. I didn’t take the bait….

  6. The airlines do everything possible to promote these award programs and they also throw out every obstacle making it difficult (or in some cases impossible) to use them. My older relatives could never navigate their way to booking a simple, much less complicated award ticket or upgrade without help. If they start blocking “helpers” or fee services, there will be a huge backlash.

  7. They are trying to stop the following:
    1) Travel agent advertises flight from US to DXB in EK First for $3000
    2) Customer contacts travel agent with interest.
    3) Travel agent opens MP account for customer and buys 150k miles at 2c per mile during an AS promotion.
    4) Travel agent redeems these miles for the flight.

  8. Oh great, don’t tell me AK accounts that have spg points transferred in will now start having issues again with international flights being canceled.

    @Tom – I see what you’re saying, but if a carrier sells miles and allows transfers how does that violate their terms and conditions if you skip the huckster and create your own account?

  9. I can tell you as a travel agent this makes me happy…Nothing worse than booking mileage tix for others. No commission, difficult to change etc…

  10. Given the amount of information Alaska has access to with regards to Hilary’s FF account, the move seems more like a personalized “notice of request to change business structure.” For folks who do the paid-for travel arranging on an advertised scale, I’d keep an eye out for one in your inbox.

    Having said that, I don’t think anyone’s going to bat an eye if you’re calling in to help your old Nana out with her miles.

  11. @ADP

    But Hilary said all her redemption out from her account were for herself and her families. Not a single redemption is for anybody outside the family – so how does that violate AS terms? Or how would AS links her account to her clients’ accounts? She said her service does NOT take in clients who do not already have miles in their own accounts. Now with redemption on AS, the clients have to do their own callings because of this “gem” in the T&Cs she now found.

    Time for AS to change its business model / accounting on its FFP to be inline with other US airlines’ programs, sell the miles to its partners and account such properly instead of a “pay as you go” method, i.e. only account for such when it has to deposit reward miles into customers’ accounts regardless where the sources of the miles (buy, transfer from partners, earned from flying partners, to just name a few.)

  12. @FLL, I agree with you – there (should) be no clear evidence from her account activity that it was for anyone else outside her family. That’s why I suspect her account lock was tailored to her specifically – she publicly advertises that she is a travel arranger.

    Maybe AS is looking to bring mileage booking services in-house? They definitely have an incentive to not empower intelligent burning.

  13. At one time the AS agents would assist passengers by actually booking a flight when it became available if you were unable to do so. At one time their Twitter crew would make changes on your behalf when you were unable to call them from outside North America.

    Those days are long gone so it is consistent that AS does not want anyone else to help with bookings. Perhaps because too many successful bookings erode the bottom line?

    Unfortunately AS benefits are being eroded – but luckily in some ways not as fast as the benefits being eroded on other legacy carriers.

    Like they say in the woods – you just have to be faster than one of your friends to avoid the bear.

  14. One can interpret this any way one wants . . . I’m sure there’s a way to spin it so that a Congressman or Senator from Alaska can’t have someone on his or her Washington staff book a ticket on a purely personal trip from Juneau to Bethel to visit a relative in prison . . .

    However, I agree with @KLYDE . . . I’m sure this will make travel agents everywhere happy!

    On the flip side of the equation — and with apologies to KLYDE — I’ve never needed a travel agent to help me book an award ticket on AS (or VX, for that matter), and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Now there *have* been times when booking international tickets on points has been somewhat problematic in the past — particularly with VS — but AS has a special, separate telephone number for customer assistance in booking international award travel, so . . .

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