One Common Miles and Points Tactic Can Land You in Jail

A woman in New Hampshire has been arrested for redeeming Delta SkyBonus points. That’s their small business program, like American’s Business ExtrAA and United PerksPlus. She was the manager on her employer’s account, and used the points even after she was let go in 2013.

Tomaselli was a former executive assistant in charge of administering several accounts for the company, which included air and travel miles. Police said Tomaselli manipulated an account that managed Delta Airline miles accumulated by employees traveling on Brookstone business. She managed to gain access to miles being placed in a pool and used them herself. Police said Tomaselli used over 2,000,000 Skybonus Points to travel to several countries, including France, Italy and Greece.

Police say the value of the miles was more than $300,000.

She’s charged “with theft by unauthorized taking and computer related offenses.”

Three years ago I testified for the defense in a federal criminal trial over alleged misuse of Delta SkyBonus points.

The defendant was her company’s travel manager and opened the account, earning points for tickets flown by her company’s employees. She said her manager knew about this and approved of it. The company claimed not to have even known about the account (although if that were true, and she didn’t use the points, they would have expired unused and the company didn’t actually lose anything through her redemptions).

Delta provided the federal prosecutor with the ‘value’ of the tickets she had redeemed, using insane full fare prices for tickets. After I provided a valuation analysis, they revised the claim down to the actual value of travel based on the fare classes that the SkyBonus awards booked into. I still contended this valuation was high because points are worth less than the retail value of travel — they expire, they can’t be used for anything other than travel like cash can, they can be devalued.

Ultimately the former employee settled, reimbursing the company for a fraction of the amount originally claimed. That seemed like a good outcome. This woman didn’t belong in prison.

Still you might think that because points do not have any value on a company’s books, they have no cost basis in the points, and the program claims the points belong to the airline and not the company, that a prosecutor wouldn’t pursue a case like this. The judge I was in front of certainly thought it shouldn’t have been in her court. But there’s risk when any arrangement can be portrayed — even intentionally out of context — as improper.

I share this story because I know there are readers out there who have opened small business accounts in the name of their employer, without their employer’s knowledge. They figure their employer wouldn’t have used such an account on their own, it’s a dormant opportunity. And they use the points themselves.

However there’s a risk that later on the employer could discover the account, and claim that the points should have been theirs and were improperly used. With enough connections to a prosecutor (maybe they’re a government contractor), they could get not just theft charges but even computer crimes — for ‘improperly accessing’ the small business account without authorization.

(HT: @MattSoleyn)

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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Comments

  1. @johhny.. It would be hard to prosecute Parker… the value of the AA points taken is too low to prosecute.

    Retribution for taking Airline points: Purchase the points and give them to the original owner. And deduct attorney fees from the value. The big loss is paying an employee to optimize points use. Do companies really do that?

  2. Fifteen cents per point for Skypesos? I should do really well with the 125K I have left to burn….mine are worth over $19K in flights!! WOOHOO!!!! Either that or the price of DL flights just went up 600%.

  3. “Police said Tomaselli used over 2,000,000 Skybonus Points to travel to several countries, including France, Italy and Greece.

    Police say the value of the miles was more than $300,000.”

    That is literally the stupidest g.d. thing I have ever read in my entire life.

    15 cents per Skymile?

    I’d sell unlimited quantities of them for 10% of that. Anyone want 10,000,000 Skymiles for $15000?

  4. Skybonus points and Skymiles are not equal in value. Same with AAdvantage miles and Business ExtrAA points on AA. In both cases the business version of the points represent much worse redemption value.

  5. @James you’re missing the point. A not insubstantial number of people set up small business accounts with their employer’s name and collect the business points on their own itineraries and those of family/friends.

  6. I actually have an interesting related story: my former employer (a consulting firm) opened one of these business accounts and registered my FF# to it without my consent. It is now a former employer and I’ve long since gone on to start my own company and called the airline to register my FF# to my new company’s “Corporate Bonus” account.

    The airline refuses to move my account to my new company, saying that the old company refuses to consent to the move. Bizarre. In the mean time, my old company continues to rack up all of my points related to travel even though I no longer work there. Would I have some sort of recourse against the old company?

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