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.”
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.