Mileage Accounts Frozen, Under Audit: How to Avoid It, What to Do When it Happens

TMTravelWorld notes that there have been some recent discussions about US Airways Dividend Miles investigating fraudulent account activity and freezing accounts that are under investigation.

This is something that both United and American have been known to do aggressively, but not something that US Airways was much known for until several months ago. And whenever something ‘new’ like this pops up, there’s much consternation, not to mention folks posting on Flyertalk with (what I’d speculate to be) less than all of the facts disclosed.

It seems like a good time to review the kinds of activity that most frequently draw the scrutiny of fraud departments of mileage programs. While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the biggest factors:

  • premium class international award redemptions for other people, especially several in a short period of time.
  • heavy mileage earning from a single partner or source
  • one or more of the above across multiple accounts accessed from the same computer or IP address
  • sponsoring upgrades for multiple different individuals
  • selling awards

    If you’re contacted by a program about irregular activity in your account, the account will often be ‘frozen’ during the review period. Or you may just find that your account is frozen without any contact from the program at all. It can be difficult getting responses and answers from the program, they’re going to act on their own timetable and in most cases there’s little that can be done to goose the process. That’s a huge inconvenience for folks acting within the rules of the program who want to use their miles.

    The program may have questions, or ask for documentation, and if they can’t convincingly demonstrate that you’ve broken the program’s rules your account will likely be unfrozen.

    Now, folks have had tickets voided and have even been met during travels. Those are cases where a program thinks pretty convincingly that they’ve ‘got you’.

    Flyertalk member bseller once posted the questions that United has been known to ask when they suspect an upgrade (or presumably award) has been sold:

    Q: How did you upgrade?
    Q: How much did you PAY, for the upgrade?
    Q: Who sponsored you?
    Q: How do you know this person?
    Q: Do you know where this person lives?
    Q: Do you have a contact number, for this person?

    Here, they want to know if you really know the person who provided you the miles or upgrade instrument. And it’s why when I gift an award to someone, I give them a letter or card as well.

    In July, 2003 Inside Flyer publishes a piece (subscription required) that I remembered (and searched for) as “Worst-Case Scenario” but was actually called “The Survival Guide to Frequent Flyer Red Flags.”

    Here’s their advice when audited:

    Before the audit, find out exactly which transaction the program is questioning and be prepared with all the necessary documentation.

    Answer all of the questions put to you, and only the questions put to you. Do not volunteer any information that is not specifically asked for that might in any way prejudice the outcome of the audit. Remember, the person making the decision whether you will keep your miles or points will make an objective decision based on the information presented them.

    Tell the truth. If you’ve engaged in some less-than-honorable actions, come clean. Attempting to cover up actions during an audit will only lead to more scrutiny placed on your account.

    I’m going to agree with the ‘tell the truth’ part, especially with American, their audits are known to proceed when they’ve got you ‘dead to rights’ and they explicitly want you to come clean and will be more lenient with you if you do so. There are also reports of United being more lenien to folks who ‘own up’ to what they’ve done, express regret, and agree not to do it again.

    Recently US Airways has had some incredibly rich promotions, that have led people to load up on miles, and then use those miles for premium cabin international awards issued in names of folks who aren’t the accountholder. Are those folks family? Friends? Brokered award recipients? US Airways doesn’t know, but likely has a strong indication in some cases that miles were bought cheap and then sold off. They’re looking at that. It’s an inconvenience for those being investigated, but one that’ll pass unless US Airways turns up evidence that the awards were in fact sold.

  • About Gary Leff

    Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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    Comments

    1. Thank you for this, which will help me rest easier. The recent suggestions that US is capriciously cracking down on innocents had me somewhat worried, but I agree there must be more to those stories.

    2. I remember little from my days practicing law, but one principle always rang true: there are always two sides to every story.

      It is certainly possible that US is “being unfair” to some folks who were just giving int’l business class tickets to their friends. If that’s truly the case, I’m sure those generous donors will be fine.

      But it’s also possible that those tickets were sold and if that’s the case, the airline is well within its rights to crack down on these schemes.

    3. So Lemme ask…what do you do when US shuts down your account with zero communication, and doesn’t give you a chance to describe that the ticket was booked for a relative? What would you do in that case? They won’t even give you a chance to explain! In fact, they will email saying that all further communication will be ignored!

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