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Can I Sell Hotel Points and Air Miles?

SmarterTravel

Dear Tim,

Do you know where I can sell my hotel points and air miles?

Jack

Dear Jack,

While it’s increasingly easy to purchase miles—either directly from the airlines themselves, or through a company like Miles4Sale—you cannot sell your miles to someone else. As a practical matter, there is simply no way to transfer miles from one account to another in most programs. (Exceptions: American’s shareAAmiles program and Six Continents Priority Club program.)

What you can do—again, strictly as a practical matter—is redeem miles for an award ticket and then sell that ticket to someone else. In fact, there is an active gray market in frequent flyer award tickets, conducted by so-called coupon brokers. These brokers—whose ads you may have seen on the Internet or in newspaper classifieds—link would-be mileage sellers like yourself with buyers seeking discount airfares. The buyer provides his ticket needs to the broker, who finds a seller with enough miles for an award ticket that meets the buyer’s requirements. The broker then pays the seller to have an award ticket issued in the buyer’s name, and charges the buyer enough to cover costs plus a profit margin.

While it can be done, the airlines take a dim view of such transactions. How dim? Here’s the American AAdvantage policy:

“At no time may AAdvantage mileage credit or award tickets be purchased, sold, or bartered. Any such mileage or tickets are void if transferred for cash or other consideration.”

All other airlines, it should be said, include similar verbiage in their frequent flyer programs’ terms and conditions.

Many frequent flyer program participants find such restrictions objectionable. “I earned those miles,” they bristle. “And by golly, I oughtta be able to sell ’em if that’s what I choose to do.” Philosophically, that argument has merit. But it’s academic. By participating in a program, you have implicitly agreed to be bound by that program’s rules, whether you agree with them or not.

If you’re tempted to defy the regulations, consider the possible consequences. According to American’s rules, sellers face “the forfeiture of all award tickets, and any accrued mileage in a member’s account, as well as cancellation of the account and the member’s future participation in the AAdvantage program. In addition, American Airlines reserves the right to take appropriate legal action to recover damages, including its attorney fees incurred in prosecuting any lawsuit.”

And buyers “may be liable for damages and litigation costs, including American Airlines’ attorneys fees incurred in enforcing this rule. Use of award tickets that have been acquired by purchase or for any other consideration may result in the tickets being confiscated or the passenger being denied boarding. If a trip has been started, any continued travel will be at the passenger’s expense on a full-fare basis. The passenger and member may also be liable to American Airlines for the cost of a full-fare ticket for any segments flown on a sold or bartered ticket.”

Summing up, you can indeed sell your frequent flyer program awards. But in doing so, you will be running afoul of your program’s terms and conditions. And the penalties can be substantial.

As Dirty Harry sneered: “Do you feel lucky?”

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