Update on a Frequent Flyer Program’s Fraud Unit Gone Off the Rails, Closing Down Legitimate Accounts

Three weeks ago I wrote about the frustrations of a frequent flyer program fraud detection unit gone off the rails.

Air France KLM’s Flying Blue shut down the account of someone who simply transferred points in from American Express Membership Rewards and redeemed those points for a ticket. The American Express account, Flying Blue account, and tickets were all for the same person. (American Express no longer even lets you transfer points to other people any more.)

I learned about readers who had had similar experiences and I also heard from a fraud unit employee who actually claimed they wouldn’t permit transferring in points just to book awards.

[T]he use of our frequent flyer accounts as boxes opened to transfer miles with our non air partners won’t be allowed anymore.

I couldn’t believe this was the case. It sounded like a rogue employee gone overboard who was shutting down accounts improperly. But what to do about it?

Several readers have asked for an update.

  • My own award booking client, whose experience initially made me aware of the challenge, was taken care of pretty easily. American Expess is great at making things right for their members. They were able to recoup points and transfer elsewhere.
  • American Express helped me to get Air France’s attention. And I did speak with them.

I was told in no uncertain terms — Air France KLM Flying Blue values its partners American Express and Citibank, and does allow transfers into Flying Blue accounts to redeem awards.

They said they want US members to feel comfortable with the program, they have big plans in the US and are planning a big campaign to raise their profile here that should include bonuses (no indication if these will be transfer bonuses or bonuses for crediting flights to Flying Blue).

My concern though, was what does a member do when they’ve followed the rules but find themselves in a troubling situation? Their suggestion to ‘call the Flying Blue helpline’ was not useful.

They’ve promised to follow up with me on how to handle situations gone awry.

In the meantime, though, there have been more frustrations. For instance, a supervisor on the helpline has said that they’re randomly flagging new accounts that have points transfer into them and won’t allow tickets to be paid for online — requiring a trip in-person to an Air France airport ticket counter. (Good luck with someone at the airport knowing how to help, even if you have an Air France ticket office near you.)

I’ve found one gets into a customer service loop with Flying Blue like this one is more common than with most other programs.

I’m promised follow up on the supposed procedure for randomly flagging new accounts like this as well.

Developing…


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 InsideFlyer.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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  1. This type of bureaucratic hell has a French flavor to it. I bet helpline has perfected Catch Vingt-deux.

    You can only transfer points in if you don’t want an award! If you want an award, you are sane, so you cannot fly with us!

  2. Thanks for the post! A few days ago I transferred MR to my newly created Flying Blue account and booked an award for myself and a friend. I had been waiting for your post before making the transfer, but didn’t want to risk losing the award space…

    Anyway, after putting in all my info/payment details, I get an error at the last step, saying to call FB to complete ticketing. Expecting the worse, I called them, only to have a great agent quickly confirm my flights. Not sure if my experience was related to the fraud flagging issue, but certainly a nerve wracking experience.

  3. i too had an issue. transferred in points from my american express account to my newly created air france flying blue account. booked a ticket online seeing the award space was there. got an error message after i was completing the booking. it said to call flying blue. i spoke with flying blue. they said the account was flagged that i needed to go to the airport (such a pain) to get the ticket. they would not be able to issue over the phone. i said, “why? the ticket is in my name, the account is my name. the miles transferred in came from my amex card in my name.” .” “sorry. i am not allowed to issue your ticket. you will need to go to the airport.” i went to the airport, no one at the desk, of course. finally after an hour someone came. they didn’t know what i was talking about. that i would need to call flying blue to have the ticket issued. i explained it was flying blue that sent me to the airport. they went to the back office, came out 1 hour later…took my credit card and issued my tickets there… unreal and so unnecessary. i mean, how difficult is it for air france to simply verify that the miles came from the amex account in my name. really disappointed.

  4. I would ask them what’s their plan for employees who make up rules on the spot? And I would specifically ask them to inquire the rogue employee why and how he decided to give you that response.

  5. I wonder what form this raised profile will take. Personally, I’m hoping for a US-issued credit card.

  6. They would need to get their act together – they now seem to be talking out of several sides of their mouths simultaneously – before I’d trust them with a points transfer. If they don’t want customers who transfer in points, they’d better stop being an AMEX partner. AMEX needs to take some initiative here too. If they’re advertising this as a transfer partner, they’d better be sure their advertising is honest.

  7. I have had several terrible experiences with FlyingBlue, esp AirFrance and their phone desks. In my case, the KLM-side was much better, and the KLM twitter team was even excellent. For phones, I think I had best service when called to the Swiss office. Be careful because redemptions made at one call center cannot always be handled by another.

  8. Agree with @Rambuster, but heed the advice of @Pinaki if you dare. FB is something I’ll only touch if I have an extremely simple, certain, one-way. Exercising value out of them is too much a chore, and I’m put off by not having a real award chart. Forget the promos, I say.

  9. I got into an endless loop with them on mileage that didn’t post from some Air Mauritius flights. Even though one segment on the same ticket did post correctly, the others did not, and I got into a loop of useless phone calls and emails that required replying however always came back undeliverable saying I had changed the format of the email despite. At one point a phone agent insisted my middle name was no longer on my FlyingBlue account, that took weeks to update, and fixed nothing. Even a FlyingBlue executive I met at the Freddie’s got involved…and still nothing. I eventually walked and decided, no matter what the value proposition, I was not going to bother with FlyingBlue.

  10. Sounds like AF wants to have their cake and eat it too — the benefits of an AMEX partnership but only if you happen to be a loyal AF customer too?

  11. @Sam

    What happened to you is most likely that the new account wasn’t yet recognized by AF’s ticketing system. Usually it has to be open anywhere from 24 to 72 hours before the ticketing system is refreshed to recognize new accounts and allow ticketing.

    The agent likely manually deducted the miles and then issued the ticket. I’ve also heard of agents not wanting to do this so they put reservations on hold and say call back in 2 days to ticket.

  12. @Jenn — typical of Non-US customer service. I was once refused to speak to a supervisor when on the phone with Air Canada, and on another occasion, Lufthansa.

  13. Given all the recent fraud and FF account hijacking it makes eminent good sense for AF to be cautious with newly opened accounts that do not have an established history or for unusual activity. I don’t think the criticism is justified and I expect you would feel differently if your miles suddenly went missing.

    Where they fall down is with customer service – when this situation occurs they need to have a special flag for the account (so the average CSR is alerted) and a special department that responds promptly to customers – as is the case with many banks.

  14. @Boraxo when a ticket is issued in the name of the account holder and the miles come from the account holder’s frequent flyer account, there is no fraud there. as gary explained you can’t transfer points in from american express (any longer) unless the name on the american express account matches the name on the frequent flyer account (in this case air france.) so that right there eliminates the idea that miles are purchased from a broker or 3rd party or that some sort of “fraud” has occurred. if air france has a problem with new accounts, then they need to disclose that no mileage transfers from american express or citibank will be honored for award travel unless the flying blue account has been established for at least x number of days. but for them to flag accounts and make us drive 2 hours to the airport when the ticket and account are in our own name is just a waste of everyone’s time and beyond needless — let alone closing accounts when the ticket matches the account holder.
    –still annoyed

  15. @Jenn You clearly don’t understand how antifraud programs works nor do you seem to understand the current issues (identity theft, not sale of awards). Fortunately Air France does. Again, the issue is process (freezing account, or requiring additional verification etc. rather than closing account without notice) and better customer service to affected customers. The solution is not to eliminate antifraud process because the net is too large.

    Sorry that you were inconvenienced due to bad customer service and bad issue resolution process. But good to see AF is proactive, not reactive.

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