Photography and Photoshop professional Scott Kelby is making the rounds on various blogs this week with a story on how U.S. Airways took 81,180 miles from him, all because his travel agent forgot to add his frequent flier number to two of his past trips.
Without the account numbers attached to those trips, U.S. Airways decided there had been no activity, so they basically threw his miles away. Normally this would be another of those valuable life lessons, but U.S. Airways didn’t really get rid of them for good – they are merely holding them hostage.
If Scott Kelby wants his miles back, he can fork over $300, open a U.S. Airways credit card, or take a paid first class flight on the airline. This sounds more like blackmail to me. Lets look at the facts for a moment – U.S. Airways wants activity on their mileage accounts every 18 months. This is about the same number you’ll find on every airline. Activity is a very broad term – this could be the addition of 250 miles through grocery store purchase, or a flight on a partner airline. When there had been no activity, they simply dumped his miles. At an estimate value of 1.5 cents/mile, U.S. Airways stole just over $1,200 from Mr. Kelby.
The reason airlines have these rules is simple – their frequent flier program is a loyalty program, and someone who doesn’t fly the airline for two years can not be considered loyal. But more importantly, miles are a liability to the airline. The more miles they have doing nothing, the more it costs them in their books. Their accountants love getting those miles out of the books, and what cheaper way than using rules to simply throw them away.
Picking sides in the loss of miles is a tough one – Scott Kelby obviously screwed up when he forgot to have his U.S. Airways Dividend Miles number added to his flights. And then he screwed up again when he didn’t check his account regularly. Then he screwed up again when he didn’t call within a year to have the mileage applied retroactively.
How did U.S. Airways screw up? They screwed up when they picked their rules over customer satisfaction. In picking rules over customers, they created a tidal wave of bad PR. And in stories like this, it doesn’t really matter who is right or wrong – because the big bad airline always ends up looking like the bad guy.