CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Julio Medina and his wife waited a long-time for this trip. They were flying from Charlotte to Munich to Budapest and then taking a cruise on the Danube River up to Amsterdam.
Medina used the website, Alpha Flight Guru, to buy two tickets on Lufthansa. "It was close to $6,000," he said, which he said was less expensive than buying the tickets from the airline directly.
But, when the Medinas got to the airport, Lufthansa wouldn't let them on the plane. He said he was told, "We can't honor these tickets."
"It was really scary on the day of, at the airport," Medina said.
Lufthansa said Alpha Flight Guru used someone else's frequent flyer miles to get the Medinas those tickets and that's against airline policy. In fact, it's pretty much against all airlines' policies. Lufthansa actually called it fraud to Action 9.
It appears that the ticket in question was obtained fraudulently as Alpha Flight Guru sold Mr. Medina brokered Miles & More award tickets, which is in violation of Lufthansa's Conditions of Carriage and the Miles & More Terms and Conditions.
According to Lufthansa's Conditions of Carriage, carriage will be refused if "...you present a ticket that has been acquired unlawfully, or has been purchased or obtained in breach of the Miles & More membership terms and conditions..." (Conditions of Carriage, 7.1.8).
And in the Miles & More terms and conditions it is stated that:
"2.1.3 Transferability of miles and trading with miles
Miles and mileage accounts cannot be transferred to a third party. The sale, exchange, offer for auction or any other transfer of miles to a third party is prohibited. Also prohibited are negotiations for the purchase or sale of miles and the purchase of miles from participants or a third party, as well as the unauthorized use of miles.
Deviating provisions shall be explicitly specified in the Miles & More communication media.
2.4.8 Transferability and trading of award documents
Award documents, especially award tickets, may only be issued to persons for their own use, to persons with which the member is personally connected through a mutual relationship, such as relatives, friends and acquaintances, and may not be exchanged for other awards or cash.
In addition, the sale, exchange, offer for auction or any other transfer of award documents to a third party is prohibited. Also prohibited are negotiations for the purchase or sale of award documents as well as the unauthorized acquisition and the unauthorized use of award documents. Miles & More coupons and eVouchers are considered award documents in the context of this Section 2.4.8."
As a results, the Medinas had to rush and buy two new tickets at the airport from Lufthansa directly at full price, which is exactly what they were trying to avoid all along.
"If we hadn't had the credit card with enough limit on it, it would have ruined the vacation we had been planning for years and years," he said.
George Hobica writes for Airfare Watchdog, a website which carries weight with at least one major airline. He said companies are playing with fire when they buy people's miles and, then, use them to get discount tickets for other people. "I think that any time you try to cheat a frequent flyer program, or cheat anyone, it's, it's kind of dastardly," he said.
"It's not cheating," Alpha Flight Guru general counsel Chris Miller said.
Miller was very willing to discuss this topic with Action 9.
"We do inform our customers about how the process works. Our business model emphasizes repeat customers, so we take very good care of them. Our customers are primarily high net worth individuals and small business owners, and tend to be quite sophisticated about the vagaries of the travel industry in general and the airline FF policies in particular," Miller said.
In fact, the company's terms and conditions http://alphaflightguru.com/terms clearly state, "We may, from time to time, assist you in booking travel by utilization of frequent flyer award miles/points. This procedure, although discouraged by the airlines, is perfectly legal, except in the state of Utah. You acknowledge, and explicitly permit, a guru to create a frequent flyer account on your behalf using your name and personal information to assist in booking award tickets. You also understand and agree that the frequent flyer account will be managed by the guru and account details may change. If you notice any errors in your account details, please notify your guru immediately."
Miller also told Action 9, "In those rare instances (less than 1 percent) where a ticket is not honored for any reason, we make sure that the customer is made whole, and as our Terms of Service state: 'If your ticket is not honored for any reason, please contact your Guru immediately. In most cases we can confirm your flight is authorized with the airline, and you will be on your way. In other cases, we will replace your ticket with an acceptable alternative of equal value or more within 24 hours. Your ticket is guaranteed up to the amount paid for the ticket, and AlphaFlightGuru.com will replace your ticket within 24 hours or offer a full refund, or provide other alternative options within 24 hours.'"
Alpha Flight Guru says no. It believes those miles are just like any other "currency." And not just that, but a very large currency. Alpha Flight Guru says they are a $24 trillion form of money, making it one of the largest in the world. Therefore, the company argues the airlines shouldn't be able to tell customers what they can do with their unused miles. Miller wrote this legal argument defending that position.
"We recognize that the airlines play this game and we try to make sure our customer is not the person that suffers," Miller said in a phone interview.
To its credit, the company did refund the Medinas, even before Action 9 got involved.
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