United Warns Employees After Firing 35+ For Selling ‘Buddy Pass’ Perks
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
“Everyone does it. At all airlines. Literally everyone.” So what is… “it”… exactly? Selling non-revenue “buddy pass” travel benefits, apparently, at least according to one United employee, who shared this slightly tongue-in-cheek anecdote on the condition of anonymity.
As United recently warned staff in a detailed account of fraud and theft, sometimes the airline wises up, and workers get caught. And, after having an opportunity to plead their cases and clarify the record, they’re out of a job.
Here’s how United chose to explain the results of its latest investigation to staff this week:
Selling pass travel privileges: not OK
United employees at the gate noticed something fishy about a particular group of nine non-revenue pass riders. The three families, who were traveling internationally, stated that they had “paid for” first class tickets — but they were on non-revenue reservations and were unable to provide the names of the employees who had provided the tickets.
Thanks to the station personnel’s quick thinking, a representative from each family was asked to provide a written statement. In those statements, they noted that they had paid between $3,500 and $4,000 per person for one year’s worth of domestic and international travel on United. After the nine would-be pass riders were denied boarding, they purchased last-minute revenue tickets to travel that same day.
Corporate Security initiated an investigation and ultimately not only identified the employees who had listed the nine individuals as their eligible pass riders, but uncovered a brokering scheme where employees were soliciting pass travel privileges from their colleagues to put up for sale.
The investigation showed that some of the employees involved had presented fake documentation in order to falsely list travelers as their stepparents or domestic partners. Some had solicited enrolled friend status and buddy passes from their colleagues to sell to third parties, leveraging their relationship and trust with their colleagues or their position within United to broker the deals. Some of the employees who gave up their passes received payment, while others were deceived into giving away their pass travel privileges based on the pretext that the passes were for a good friend or a relative (although even that would be against the rules).
Ultimately, more than 35 employees lost their jobs for brokering pass travel privileges, profiting from the sale of their pass travel privileges, listing ineligible individuals as relatives or providing pass travel to unknown individuals. Some claimed that they believe that what they were doing was OK, since they had pass travel privileges that weren’t being used. A quick read-through of the Pass Travel Guidelines would have told them otherwise and could have prevented them from being fired.
Your pass travel privileges are intended for use only by you and your friends or family members. While you can reimbursed by your pass riders for any taxes, fees and imputed income for their travel, charging above that amount is not allowed — and selling pass travel or trading for goods or services isn’t either.
While this memo, which was provided to us by a source within the airline, is a lot to digest, it’s refreshing to see the airline offering a bit more transparency, especially around a topic as sensitive as corporate security investigations. As United explained to TPG, “Enjoying flying privileges is a unique and special advantage of working at an airline, and it is intended only for our employees and their friends and family. We have clear rules on flying privileges so we can all fairly enjoy this benefit.”
In my opinion, it seems clear that United hopes to discourage other employees from following suit — in addition to the lost revenue from non-compliant pass travel, it’s incredibly costly to recruit and train pilots, flight attendants, customer service agents and other workers only to fire a few dozen for breaking the rules.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees