Questions United Asks When It Suspects an Award or Upgrade Has Been Bought or Sold

Flyertalk member bseller, whom I had the pleasure to sit next to on a flight from the West Coast to Chicago in business class on a 777 back in 2002, offers some experience with United’s Mileage Plus fraud folks.

He tells the story of an upgrade — which was technically traded for with another member against Mileage Plus rules — being flagged by United as possible fraud.

“There was a FRAUD ALERT in the PNR and it required that I verify the validity of the upgrade”, or words to that effect.
I should point out that this U/G was done ONLINE.

Here are the questions asked- AND they were REQUIRED to be anssered PRIOR to the issuance of a BP. This is NOT “optional” sh*t; You guys can proceed at your risk:
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?

Trading upgrades — just like selling upgrades (and award tickets — is against the rules of pretty much all programs. Occasionally the program flags an upgrade or award for greater scrutiny based on their own internal formula (and many programs do stalk eBay to track down sales). Consequences can include cancelling a ticket and requiring the passenger to pay full fare, and shutting down the sponsoring member’s account. If the sponsor has a very large stash of miles that’s obviously a serious consequence.

On the other hand, first time offenders sometimes get off a bit more lightly, especially if they ‘fess up to what they’ve done. There are plenty of threads on Flyertalk about this in the United and American Airlines forums.

It’s also why, whenever I give someone an upgrade or an award, I’ll also send them a gifting letter of sorts. It wishes them well, perhaps happy birthday or anniversary, it has my address and telephone number on the letter. That way they have my information handy just in case there’s any sort of problem. And I’d hate for a friend to know my work address when it’s my home address on my frequent flyer account, or vice versa.

I don’t worry too much when gifting an award or ugprade is perfectly within a program’s rules, but I am the cautious sort and knowing that flags on awards and upgrades do happen I want to make sure that there aren’t any misunderstandings.

And the consequence is severe enough that I wouldn’t gift an award or upgrade to someone I didn’t know and trust, e.g. selling something through a broker.

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, 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. Gary,

    Based on your comment about SPG not a great program based strictly on hotel revenue, which program do you think is the greatest value, and in turn, easiest to get rewards?

    I am MR platinum with 300k points, used 2 rewards previously. Lots of properties, but not always available.

    This is my most frequent chain to stay.
    I can and will make top tier in another chain, gold in HH, and SPG currently with credit cards. Which do you think give you the best bang for the dollar and easiest to redeem.

  2. Starwood is a great program.

    Easiest redemption is Starwood and now Hilton.

    Starwood has plenty of properties that I actually WANT to redeem at, much more so than Hilton, but that’s a function of my luxe preference.

    And Starwood is a great place to accumulate points via credit card spending in order to redeem for hotels (or to transfer to miles in those programs offering 1:1 transfers plus transfer bonuses, and LanChile is 1:2 + bonuses).

    My only point was that Starwood isn’t good for spending money AT STARWOOD HOTELS and expecting to get hotel room redemptions quickly.

    Which program is MOST rewarding will depend on
    (1) your stay patterns, do you have lots of 1-night stays or longer stays? (if the former, per-night offers are most rewarding)

    (2) what’s your status, Starwood is certainly better for Plats on one night stays given the 500 point per stay bonus at checkin

    (3) what are your reward goals, eg Goldpoints is a pretty rewarding program in some cases but you’d have to actually want to stay at Radissons… :p

    And then of course recurring promotions change the calculations a bit, Starwood has had tons of promos the last couple years whereas Hilton really hasn’t.

    Marriott is a terrible elite program in my view, it’s just not generous with upgrades. But their TRAVEL PACKAGES are a great redemption value. Low point redemptions are poor value, but put together a few hundred thousand points and redeem for stays and miles…

    Hilton is a terrible elite program at the top tier, Diamond is virtually indistinguishable from Gold (but Gold is the best mid-tier out there). Redemption has gotten much better. But outside of a few Conrads they tend not to offer the luxury factor I want for my vacation redemptions.

    Hyatt is pretty good at the Diamond level, though suite upgrades can be scarce especially in Asia. Faster Free Nights is one of the best ongoing promos ever. Not enough properties, though. And no credit card partner.

    Intercontinental Hotels has Priority Club as its points program but the separate Ambassador program for status (and Royal Ambassador for top tier). The Royal Ambassador program is the single best elite level out there, the best upgrades, 8am checkin in addition to late checkout, and drinks are free from the minibar. Problem is there just aren’t enough Intercontinentals out there.

    Royal Ambassador gets you Platinum status in the Priority Club program, which is the most inconsistent top elite level there is, plus who really wants to step down from an Intercontinental hotel and stay at a Holiday Inn? (There are some decent ones outside the U.S., but still….)

    The right program really depends on your stay patterns and reward interests.

    Personally, I like Starwood Platinum for the occasional suite and I love Interconitnental Royal Ambassador for its benefits.

    But I divorce my stays from my credit card earning (I do like Starwood though).

    And I know that I stay at Starwoods IN SPITE of the in-hotel earning, in exchange for the better elite treatment, rather than BECAUSE OF the in-hotel earning.

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