Cashing In Q&A columns

The greatest gift of all: free travel


When offered someone else’s frequent flier miles for travel, there are some rules of the road that you should follow.

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Question for the expert

Dear Cashing In,
My neighbor has tons of frequent flier miles as he travels for business. He recently offered to buy tickets for my family so we could take a vacation. Is this OK? Is it legal? How does that work? — Linda

Answer for the expert

Dear Linda,
First of all, I hope there are some homes for sale in your neighborhood because it sounds like your neighbor and I could become friends real fast.

As unique as this may sound, it really is not that unusual for frequent fliers with “tons of frequent flier miles” to use them in ways similar to this. Travel is one of those gifts that almost all people love, and they continue to have a very high emotional and aspirational value, which is why when presented with opportunities like this, your family is likely to be incredibly grateful.

Let me reassure you, his offer is perfectly legal. All major flier programs in the world allow members to “gift” their awards to anyone of their choosing. There are almost 400,000 “mileage millionaires” in the world, and truthfully, there are many who do good deeds such as your neighbor. It sure beats getting a casserole, huh?

However, programs do have rules that prohibit the buying and sellling of rewards miles. An example of this would be where someone will offer up frequent flier miles in return for cash.

Here’s how your neighbor’s offer should work. He has to contact the airline to make the award reservations. Never accept information about your neighbor’s frequent flier account in order to make your own reservations as it requires using his personal identification number or PIN to confirm the reservation to have the miles debited from his account. You never want to have access to his personal information in case there is ever any question. He can make the award reservations in any name, so just make sure you provide the proper names under which you’ll be traveling.

You can also help with the reservation process by offering up a few flexible dates of travel — usually one to two days on each side of a departure and a return — to prevent him from having to communicate back and forth if the exact dates aren’t available. Plus, you don’t want to put your neighbor in the position of having to spend more miles on your travel than he has to if your exact requested travel date is not available. Trust me, while frequent fliers enjoy doing good things with our miles, we guard them very carefully.

Once he has confirmed the award reservations, an e-mail confirmation is sent and then you are on your own. Make sure the e-mail confirmation has the correct spelling of your names and the travel dates are what you requested. You might call the airline to request certain seat assignments, and if you need to change anything relative to your travel arrangements, try to do it directly with the airline. Be prepared to offer up your own credit card for any fees associated with changes. This is considered good manners for accepting a very fabulous gift.

If for some reason you are unable to actually take the trip, the proper thing to do is to let the neighbor know. He may be able to re-deposit the miles back into his account. Depending on his membership level, there is usually a cost for this. It is entirely appropriate for you to offer to pay that cost. Also, when you return from your trip, make sure you return the favor and bring a gift back for the neighbor — it is how best neighbors continue to be best neighbors.

Finally, I would not repeat this offer to your other neighbors. Not knowing them, it could put ideas in their heads to ask about their free vacation. And we all know that would not be a very good idea for anyone.

Have a great time and congrats for being so neighborly. My guess is that you’ve done things in the past that are being remembered with this neighbor’s generous offer.

See related:Your rights when dealing with canceled flights, Debunking myths about frequent flier programs, How to find the best airline rewards bonus miles deal, Tricks and tips to keep frequent flier miles from expiring, Do you lose your miles if you cancel your rewards card?

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