Is It Safe To Buy Miles From Brokers?

Filed Under: Advice

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.

Bottom line

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.

  1. I’ve forgotten more on this topic than most people will ever know and I’ll tell you this; when things go wrong the brokers are far more vindictive and spiteful in their actions than is generally reported. They have many weapons available to them (using PayPal disputes, etc) than one might think and those brokers fight *dirty* when things go wrong. Additionally, the departments that deal with this at AA, UA and DL are far more savvy and active than your average member realizes– until it’s too late.

  2. While legal, it’s usually not a good idea to run or be part of a business that deliberately violates a big corporation’s terms and conditions and when the goods that business peddles is 100% controlled by said big corp. Right up there with the people who are buying luxury cards in US/CAN , exporting to and reselling in China.

  3. dude, seriously? half the crap in the original article was BS, half the brokers knew it was a reporter. Get a job.

  4. Been using a travel agent who uses miles to book for the longest time. Haven’t had issues other than once. My travel agent rebooked me for the cash fare and took the loss. Can’t vouch for everyone of course but my travel agent hasn’t failed me in the 5 yrs I’ve been using him.

  5. Can’t be any worse than the airlines that back out of mistake fares and first class award availability. At the least with the brokers you can go in with some doubt.

  6. Sold my AMEX miles to a broker in order to get better value for them then I would redeeming. Worked well. Gotta be careful.

  7. @brokermillionaire – if only half the crap was BS, that’s actually pretty good (relatively speaking).

  8. there is one APP called mileslife. i saw their ads in UA’s website. their mode of operation was: you dine in the restaurant listed in the app, you paid in the app(can be apple pay or credit card), you get the miles.

    but their main business is in china

  9. @anon lol it actually was EK biz and he had to rebook last minute so he paid a pretty penny. He’s made his money back and then some though so don’t feel bad:) It’s a win-win. I save thousands of dollars yearly on my travel and he makes good money as well. As long as he’s willing to eat the loss if something happens (and he is) I don’t see the downside.

  10. @Lucky – I have to say I think you are WAY off base with this statement “In general I think most mileage brokers are running “legitimate” businesses.”. There’s nothing legitimate about these operations, its quite clear that they are violating the T&Cs of the mileage program and while it might not be a criminal offense its certainly something that is civilly actionable. Also the airlines are cracking down hard on them and people who use them run the very real risk of being stranded at the airport with no means of getting to their destination, or worse in a foreign country without a return ticket home, unless they are willing and able to buy a walk up ticket. I suspect that most people using these services are not able to fund a walk up one-way F/J international ticket. I strongly feel that those of us that know the system and use that knowledge to maximize the benefits of frequent travel should not advocate or try to justify violating the rules.

  11. @ryan I travel internationally for business about 10 times a year. I don’t generate enough miles of my own to cover all that. If I wouldn’t use a miles travel agent I would be spending approximately $30k-$50k more yearly in airfare. Say what you want but those are some hefty savings. Mileage brokers offer a valuable service and as long as you use one who is professional and cares about his reputation you will definitely be saving some serious cash.

  12. Lucky, as a so called “mileage broker” who is running a fully legitimate business, I’d be glad to speak with you to let you know how it actually works. I’ve never had a ticket canceled in the thousands I’ve booked, but it’s industry practice for the broker to take responsibility for any canceled bookings.

  13. @Dihal, which Mileage broker are you using, if I may ask. I want to try out a mileage broker just for fun and see if it actually works.

  14. I’m buying a one-way ticket on EVA from a consolidator who tells me he is selling me a ticket using corporate points and that corporate points are not the same as re-sold miles. The purchase confirmation has EVA’s booking number and EVA shows me as booked for the flight. The ticketing account is someone else’s name however.

    I’ve not used a consolidator before and I do not know what “corporate points” are. Has anyone had experience with a consolidator selling corporate points to issue a ticket?

  15. I have used a broker twice in April/May of 2010 for a First ($3600) and then a Business $(2800) class RT to SE Europe on the Star Alliance. I am happy to recommend him.

    The miles to buy the ticket came from an Aeroplan account and he always buys on a partner airline (in this case…Lufthansa and Swiss and Slovenian). It is not possible for an airline agent at an airport to check the validity of a partner-issued airline ticket…especially at night.

  16. When airlines and hotel loyalty programs sell miles to the general public, it’s not violating the FF programs’ T&C’s. But when buying them from mileage brokers, it’s a violation and travelers are risking their accounts being shut down and being stranded in foreign lands. It’s big businesses working together as a network protecting their own interest!

    How about when an airline goes out of business, what happens to the accumulated FF miles of their customers? I had approximately 130,0000 miles which were literally wiped out when Ansett Australia suddenly went kaput back in 2002.

    One way or another, big businesses always dictate the T&C’s and they always win!

  17. Identical questions posted her and on TripAdvisor. Endless other methods to leverage the travel loyalty programs. The risk of being blackballed is too high. Selling credit card currency risks shut down of the accounts by Amex or Chase.

  18. So, I read the article about the link you provided >>>>>a fascinating story by the milelion<<<<<. I wanted to know more. While scrolling they have a client testimonial by a client named Raj Nanjiani with an Asian guy's photo. Apparently, they have used the same guy's photo like 4 times (Raj, Leo Black, Hao N) and with different names. And I find it very odd. I thought to share with the readers here and wondering what is happening?

  19. I used to be a mileage broker. I quit when AA made what is now well-established law in the US that brokering miles constitutes “tortious interference” with the contract between the frequent flier and the airline.
    When I say “well-established” I mean the matter is well-settled: it’s been tried in numerous federal court districts and heard in several appellate court jurisdictions. Brokers are not going to get cert on this. The first cases go back to the early 90’s.

    Like any arbitrage, there is a narrowing in profitability over time. Back in the day (as people are
    wont to say all the time) there was honor in the business. I took credit cards. I even paid for miles in advance . If anyone was ripped off it was me.
    In any business you have to have some integrity, which means you don’t take the million plus mile account of a general sales manager who flies daily and issue tickets for people traveling from various destinations across the country in short order.
    I can’t see how there is any point in selling miles anymore when you can use them to pay a credit card bill at a minimum of 1 cent or cash them out for Amazon gift cards and sell those if need be. I was paying 1 cent per mile, so I’d have to be paying more than that these days–and you can buy Lifemiles for as little as 1.375 cents on occasion.
    I would have sold miles at well over 2 cents, so again I see no point in buying from a broker.
    Essentially, these days all your clients would have to be unaware what the market is like.

    There are no more fungible coupons like the ones Northwest and Southwest used to issue.
    When Southwest started suing brokers , the people I know who did not wish to lose big judgments simply got out of the business.

    I understand there are plenty of brokers based in other countries now….jurisdictions that obviously have different laws, and I cannot speak for them.
    The internet has changed a lot of things. It’s easy to have a cool website (remember the fake Delta Pets site?) and look legit these days.

    I never did have anyone even questioned over a ticket in 7 years, but I did a fairly low volume.
    Finally, there were brokers who got caught up in the World Plus ponzi scheme who definitely did not deserve the civil monetary penalties they got. [Hint: It’s never good to accept money the mayor of Fairbanks and the Alaska AG as an investment if you are running a Ponzi]

    I think this is better reading:

    And yes, I did pay my state and federal taxes

  20. Recently had a CX biz class ticket O/W HKG-SFO canceled a couple weeks after booking and a couple of weeks prior to flight date, that I bought from a friend who buys miles from a broker. Not sure what happened exactly, but my friend refunded me and took the loss (broker didn’t refund him). Friend said something about CX Asia Miles being very strict (audit probably). Bad vibes though, and definitely not worth the risk. I ended up booking the same CX seat / flight using my own AX MR —>Avios redemption…no more surprise res cancellations for me thanks.

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