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Most airlines and hotel loyalty programs have strict rules against selling, bartering or exchanging points or miles. The only exceptions are approved channels, such as Points.com. Usually we don’t hear about what happens when a member is caught doing this, as the caught member usually doesn’t want to broadcast being caught.

However, an American Airlines AAdvantage member took to FlyerTalk over the weekend to share his experience and punishment for getting caught. It’s a good reminder for all mileage collectors of just how serious mileage and points programs take these rules.

According to the member, he received a single email from “AAdvantage Corporate Security” in April 2017 stating:

“As an analyst with American Airlines, one of my responsibilities is investigating violations of the General AAdvantage Program Conditions. It has come to our attention that your AAdvantage account # XXXXXXX has been involved in the attempted online sale or barter of AAdvantage mileage.

American Airlines appreciates all of our customers, but we cannot tolerate the sale or barter of AAdvantage mileage. When earned AAdvantage miles are used in this way, the integrity of the program is damaged. This is why our General AAdvantage Program Conditions clearly state: ‘At no time may AAdvantage mileage credit or award tickets be purchased, sold, advertised for sale or bartered (including but not limited to transferring, gifting, or promising mileage credit or award tickets in exchange for support of a certain business, product or charity and/or participation in an auction, sweepstakes, raffle or contest). Any such mileage or tickets are void if transferred for cash or other consideration.’

As a result of our findings, your AAdvantage account has been assessed a penalty of the amount offered for sale or barter (500,0000 AAdvantage miles) for violating AAdvantage program rules. Please understand that any future violations of the AAdvantage Program Conditions, without exception, will force us to terminate your AAdvantage account. This action will cause any previously accumulated mileage and accrued benefits to be forfeited, and you will be ineligible to participate in the AAdvantage program in the future.”

The member claims that he “never attempted any online sale of AA mileage.” However, FlyerTalk members with knowledge about how American Airlines adjudicates these claims immediately cast doubt on that claim. Indeed, FlyerTalk moderator JDiver states unequivocally: “We have never had a credible report on FlyerTalk where there was no reason for an account lock.”

Further, the email quoted above very likely wasn’t AA’s first email to the accused member. AA Corporate Security will first contact the member to explain the charges and allow the member to refute the charges. This first email will generally read:

We have reason to believe that the transactions listed below violate one or more of the AAdvantage program conditions. This includes, but is not limited to, prohibition of purchase, sale, or barter of mileage credit and or award tickets. As a result, American Airlines has suspended your AAdvantage membership privileges and use of AA.com in conjunction with your account – and may terminate your account as a result of our findings. We are in the process of completing the investigation into this matter, and I would like to hear the events as they occurred from your perspective.

So, what are the red flags? This particular member admits to trading miles “more than 10 times in the past 7 years” — although he insists that he never listed or sold American Airlines miles, though he said he did sell other airline and hotel points and miles. He also said he did book flights for his “wife and in-laws.” Redemptions for family members shouldn’t be a red flag alone. However, his history of having sold other types of miles and points along with booking flights for others may have led to an initial inquiry by American Airlines.

One presumption is that this member received an email inquiring about booking flights for others (i.e. his in-laws) after they saw his activity on a mileage selling platform, but that he ignored this email. Without explaining the transactions, AA may have presumed guilt for potentially legal transactions.

The takeaway from this story is clear: Don’t ever try to sell miles/points. Programs take this seriously and can deduct miles/points or close your account completely. If you do book flights for friends and family members — particularly if they live at a different address and have a different last name — make sure to not ignore any emails from the airline/hotel program inquiring about the transaction. Programs generally allow members to gift award flights/nights as long as there is no compensation for doing so. If you want to acquire AA miles legitimately, multiple co-branded AAdvantage credit cards offer generous sign-up bonuses.

Featured image by Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images.

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