I Was Denied Boarding by Emirates Courtesy of Alaska Airlines!

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.

Alaska Fly and Buy Miles

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?

Week in Review: January 19-25
PointsHound Now Partners with Alaska and Frontier

Tahsir Ahsan (Bengali Miles Guru) flies over 200,000 miles per year. He helps people redeem miles all over the world as co-founder and senior award expert at Award Magic. Be sure to #FlyWithBMG on Twitter

  • Jason Stokes

    Just because you *can* do something does not mean you should. Consider it a cheap ethics lesson for you, TPG, and any readers who see this. It was quite obvious that you were exploiting a loophole in their system.

    I’m glad to see you take ownership of the situation – that’s the right thing to do. I think some other bloggers would have flipped out of their minds.

  • http://www.pointswithacrew.com/ Dan Miller

    Wow – that’s crazy. The worst time to be stuck is somewhere far away where you aren’t as familiar with things. Just be glad it was just you and not a bunch of kids too :-D

  • palefire

    I would complain to the DOT — this was a post-purchase price increase. Whether or not your purchase of the miles was unethical, that’s no justification for responding to it illegally.

  • user2347234

    this is what happens when n00bs try to scam the airlines
    before you blog you should read more, you try to educate the masses but it seems like you still have to read more for yourself.

  • Ben

    Seriously, boardingarea has way too many wannabe “travel experts”.
    I’m very glad this happened. Try to scam airlines and got ur ass chewed.

  • palefire

    Sorry gang, the schadenfreude here is unseemly. If Alaska wants to recover the extra $268 for the miles, they have legal avenues by which to try to do it. Associating that cost with a particular ticket — already paid-for and issued — and holding that ticket hostage unless the passenger ponies up, is not one of them.

    • Mrs ravoon

      You make it sound as if Alaska arbitrarily “associated” the bogus miles with this particular flight. The passenger did that when he used them to book it.

  • DC

    Thank you for the information on this situation. It has helped me make the right decision regarding buying miles from Alaska.

  • Adam

    I can’t imagine Alaska’s systems were set up to normally alert them to this sort of activity. It proves a theory out there:
    –The airlines do monitor the Points and Miles blogs.

    I am usually sympathetic to complaints about the P&M gamers manipulating the system. I especially don’t like the idea of mileage runners–who spend pennies on the dollar–gaining Diamond status and acing out true road warriors who spend five figures with an airline for upgrades and other perks of loyalty.

    But here, I don’t see the outrage. The miles were legitimately bought from AS in a program which they devised. The transaction does not systematically disrupt the equilibrium of AS’s loyalty programs like rampant mileage running does. And I’m sure AS at minimum broke even on the transaction.

    To avoid detection at something like this, assuming AS doesn’t change its rules, I would be willing to book all the space in one fell swoop, but I wouldn’t cancel it until I return from the award travel and even then, I would cancel it over several days/weeks. Also, I think it’s probably a red flag to AS if the only miles in your account are from CC bonuses/spend and purchased miles. My guess is, if there was some flight activity in your account it would have made the transactions more ambiguous.

    Honestly, I think it’s rather disreputable of an airline to engage in a cheesy tactic to pad its revenue and then penalize a customer for taking it at its word.

    • Bruce

      Wow have you got it backwards here. I am not a mileage runner, but one situation is perfectly legal and totally ethical (mileage running) and the other is to say the least sketchy at best. He got caught trying to game the system. AS was kind enough not to close his accounts. I’m sure that was perfectly within their rights to do so. I say he got off easy.

      • Adam

        Bruce, neither situation is illegal. The author printed AS’s terms of sale for the miles in his post. He was using AS’s revenue generating procedure in ways they didn’t like. He gamed their game. Mileage running is no different, in that it is consistent with the airline’s rules, but designed to create an outcome they don’t want, i.e.–low spenders accruing elite perks reserved for customers they value most (high spenders). If you think UA or AA wants people to fly six segment itineraries where there is a nonstop in place, you are kidding yourself.

        DL dealt with this by tightening up its routing rules. AA and UA have not, to my knowledge. But front the standpoint of high-spend, high-value customers, mileage running affects my travel every day because elite status is built on mileage not spend. I am a much more valuable customer to my chosen airline than a mileage runner, but I am rewarded as if I am not. That’s a much bigger threat to an airline’s business model than buying miles for award travel, which most major carriers already promote, independent of buying tickets.

    • loopyduck

      “I can’t imagine Alaska’s systems were set up to normally alert them to this sort of activity.”

      If I were running an airline, I’d certainly want something in place to detect a spate of high-value refundable tickets being canceled, if for no other reason than to keep an eye on lucrative customers who are jumping ship, so to speak. But that’s just me.

  • Ryan from MA

    Dang lots of HATEorade going on here.

  • Wayne

    Nice one! I don’t know why he was so concerned with roaming fees and paying for the full price of the ticket? Everything in his instagram is full of lambos and nice cars. Maybe they’re on credit too.

    • Spencer F

      They are all rented from Hertz. The guy is a ghetto wannabe-playboy.

      • Wayne

        Nouveau riche I guess. Anyways, I wouldn’t want to fly in the same cabin as him. It seems like it would be flying on Air Inida.

        • WBTM

          That analogy seems like it is stemming from racism… Stay classy, Wayne.

  • Joey

    I’m not sure whether to side with you BMG or with the airline. It really depends on the timeline of the events. I thought you can only get a 100% refund if you cancel the ticket within 24 hours, yet you stated you canceled the tickets a few days after you ticketed the Emirates ticket. Also, did you leave the USA for Koh Samui immediately after you ticketed the EK ticket? I can see how Alaska can detect fraud if the same person bought 5 tickets and then immediately cancelled all 5 of them; however they should have alerted you firsthand both by email and phone. Did they cancel the ticket on day of departure from BKK? Or did they cancel it a few days before and you never noticed? More information please.

  • Scottrick

    Interesting debate going on here. To add my own two cents: Everyone makes a few mistakes trying out ideas to earn points and miles and not all of them work as we planned. In this case BMG owned up to the problem and is alerting readers to his experience, which is a good thing.

    But it’s hardly a unique situation. United offers a similar path to buying miles, including elite qualifying miles, on tickets that can then be immediately canceled. In fact, I’ve had agents recommend this approach when coming to the end of the year, and I have never heard of similar fraud accusations. So what still appears to be okay with United we now know is not okay with Alaska, and that’s useful information to have.

    • jr

      you know what is very interesting is that this happens with IGH’s cash and points method of “buying points” very cheaply. You make a reservation for cash and points and get a certain number of points you’re looking for (depending on the cost/rate per night) and then you cancel the reservation, but you keep the points although you lose the cash paid for the cash and points.

      I haven’t heard of IHG cracking down on this, but recently IHG has been cracking down hard on people who are “Stacking” promo codes for their IHG accounts to earn more points. All in all I think it’s a fine line we’re all crossing by attempting these tricks no? I say that because no where in the fine print does it say I can’t register for these promos – of course they are targeted – but still. I think all the loyalty programs are getting way too careful these days it’s best not to attempt tricks like these otherwise you risk getting your account being flagged and forfeiting all the points you’ve earned legimately. Too much risk in my opinion.

  • Travlr

    Next time just be upfront and use a stolen credit card. Bet you shoplift and then return the stolen goods for cash too. No wonder airline don’t hesitate to make adverse changes or devaluations to their FF programs with people like you ripping them off.

  • Jay

    Ummm … No sympathy here.

    My advice? Consider changing your name from the “Bengali miles guru” to “Bengali miles noob”

  • Marks

    I almost had a heart attack when I read this as I was on my way to JFK to get on Emirates to Dubai. I basically bought Alaska miles when they were on sale in November. No problem at airport…thankfully

  • disqust101

    All the feigned “outrage” over buying/cancelling tickets? Really? How many bloggers have admitted they’ve done exactly that? In this case it wouldn’t have been such a problem if BMG hadn’t turned his phone off and was unreachable. I’m more irritated that once he was caught they let him off so lightly – it only encourages such behavior.

  • nemme

    I’d say you got what you deserved for gaming the system but your first – and fatal – mistake was following the advice of The Points Guy. He’s wrong more than right.

  • Claudia C. Davis

    Simply, how can you think you can benefit from the program , that is, pay for tickets and then be able buy discounted miles (the benefit), when you remove the main condition of the program (paid tickets)? It goes without saying you have to keep the tickets! When you bought the tickets and returned them, the first condition was not met. You received a discount on the miles because you paid for tickets. (I liken it slightly to buy one get the second at 50% off. If you dont buy the first, you cant get the benefit of the 50% off the second. How can you think any differently?) The shock and surprise you mention at this not working is simply ridiculous.

  • crimsonablue

    Another member on FT got his account flagged and suspended for the same thing. Will stick to their point sales even though it costs a bit more

  • jo mama

    Glad this happened to you. I think you got off easy.

    A perfect example of the so-called “expert” bloggers. Grow up.

  • Travel Summary

    BMG did not break any rules of the Alaska program. Was it shady? Sure, but so is a lot of what we do in the mileage game…especially manufactured spending. There should be no issues as long as we don’t break any policies. Alaska withheld the ticket after it was issued and charged a seemingly arbitrary amount to have it re-issued, and both of those are inappropriate actions on the part of the airline. It might not be compensation- or complaint-worthy, but it certainly can’t be justified by the airline either in my opinion.

    • sheldon cooper

      I dont see why it is inappropriate. It looks like their internal audit probably noticed it after the ticket was issued and hence Alaska withheld it. I join the others that say Alaska should not have re-issued it…I wish they had taken a consistent stance on this one.

      • Travel Summary

        What did their audit show? That he refunded some refundable tickets? He obtained the points in a legitimate transaction and followed all rules and guidelines.

        It would only be appropriate to withhold the ticket if there was a policy that said you can’t cancel tickets after the purchase of miles. And if that were the case, Alaska would only make the buy miles feature available on non-refundable tickets. But they didn’t, so BMG followed all the rules. This isn’t a case of being caught fuel dumping or breaking other policies – he followed all the rules.

  • shonuffharlem

    I think your biggest mistake was not keeping your phone on Airplane Mode and using wifi only along with Google Voice for your voice mail. You would have gotten email and voice mail notifications when Alaska Air called you from fraud department. You could have also used Skype to call Alaska from airport wifi for way less cost, the airport wifi fee if not free wifi and cheap Skype rates. In fact, Skype may be free if Alaska has a Skype account.

    • hyperkext

      T-Mobile free international data and $0.20/min calls. That is all.

  • Aptraveler

    BMG very informative and thanks for sharing. But I was a bit surprised for two things, that this whole issued about the miles was played out before you until the last minute prior to you boarding the flight; and that it generated ALL the unnecessary hate here when you only decided to share your experience so as to help others in a similar situation! I’ll never get it, the whole idea of providing an opinion for the sake of just spewing hate. Go figure!

  • Former Miles Manipulator

    I used to work for a “luxury travel agency” that booked tons of first / biz class tix using mileage. If you ever get an Emirates or Cathay flight at an unbelievable rate from one of these outfits, ask them what “booking program” they’ll be issuing through. If they say Alaska, tell them you’ll pay more for booking through BA or Qantas! The AS mileage program is small enough that when these sorts of activity spikes occur (whether through manipulation like BMGs, or through booking multiple flights for random passengers through one, large FF account), the flights get cancelled.

  • Dimitri

    Wow, educational story for sure