I get questions all the time from readers asking whether it’s safe to do business with mileage brokers. Often their branding isn’t actually that straightforward — some market themselves as offering discounted business & first class tickets, when in reality they’re just redeeming miles for your tickets, while others will outright sell you miles in your choice of accounts.
I should mention that this is different than some first & business class airfare consolidators. There are some legitimate companies that have access to discounted premium cabin tickets that don’t involve the shady business of buying and selling miles.
A fascinating look at the world of online mileage brokers
Rapid Travel Chai linked to a fascinating story by The Milelion that was published last year, in which he poses as someone who is looking to buy miles, and contacts five different companies. His goal was to see how they do business, how transparent they are, etc. Not surprisingly, the experiences vary by company.
Reading the correspondence is fascinating, so if you have time I’d recommend giving the story a read. For example, one of the brokers claims to have access to more than 500 Singapore KrisFlyer accounts. Wow!
My take on mileage brokers
Last year I wrote a post addressing whether or not it’s possible to sell miles. That was more of a general post about buying and selling miles as an individuals, rather than as a company that exclusively does this.
So what do I make of all of these mileage brokers?
- It’s typically not illegal to buy or sell miles, but rather just violates the terms & conditions of a frequent flyer program.
- In general I think most mileage brokers are running “legitimate” businesses. That’s to say that for the most part I don’t think they’re going to rip you off and take your payment without sending you the miles, since they wouldn’t be around very long if that happened. However, once things go south, I doubt you’ll hear from them again in many cases. Just like any industry, there will be bad apples, though.
- Using mileage brokers is extremely risky, and you could have your tickets canceled and frequent flyer accounts closed. Airline auditing departments are getting increasingly aggressive and savvy, and it’s pretty easy to spot this type of behavior. Typically accounts are opened, a large sum of points are transferred quickly, tickets are often issued for people other than the account holder, etc. When things go bad and accounts get shut down, I wouldn’t count on getting help from these brokers.
How do mileage brokers do it?
The above are the basics of how it works from the customer’s perspective, but how do the brokers actually get the miles? There are several different methods, and they vary based on whether they transfer actual points to you, or whether they book a ticket out of an account for you.
- Some will buy accounts with a lot of miles in them from consumers, and then resell them in the form of promising specific tickets. In this case they’re typically just redeeming miles out of those acquired accounts.
- It’s my understanding that in some circles mileage brokers go door-to-door, have people apply for credit cards, pay them a fixed amount for the miles, and then fully manage their accounts.
- Some use transferable points currencies, though many of the major currencies have added restrictions when it comes to points transfers. For example, often nowadays to transfer points to another account you need to add them as an authorized user to your account, so brokers may add you as an authorized user in order to transfer points to you, without you actually knowing.
- Some will just buy miles at a discount when they’re on sale, and then resell them at a profit in the form of promising a specific type of ticket.
- There are some unique opportunities to transfer points, some of which I haven’t heard of before. For example, The Milelion writes about how a mileage broker told him that you could transfer Samsung points to anyone’s Singapore KrisFlyer account, which is how they were generating the miles that they were selling.
Personally I don’t recommend using mileage brokers, though given the number of questions I get about this, I figured it was worth a post. If you want to earn lots of miles without actually flying, I recommend buying miles directly from loyalty programs when they’re on sale, as that can be a great way to score a premium cabin ticket at a discount.
While buying miles from brokers typically isn’t illegal, it comes with lots of risks, and also violates the terms of the programs.