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Folks often wonder what to do if they have airline miles that they can’t use, or that might be expiring soon. And Million Mile Secrets’ readers have asked if it’s okay to sell miles they won’t be using to online agencies that buy frequent flyer miles (“Miles Brokers”).
It’s NOT okay. I would never sell my miles or points to a broker, even if I could make good money doing it.
I’ll explain why, and give you some better options for getting rid of miles you can’t use.
How Do Folks Sell Their Miles?
I won’t list them here because I don’t want to promote their business, but there are a number of online brokers that will buy miles from folks who can’t use them. Depending on the frequent flyer program, these agencies will pay between 0.8 and 2 cents per mile.
The brokers then turn around and book award tickets for customers who pay them a fraction of the price of a paid ticket. Usually these customers are looking for cheap First or Business Class seats. They may ask you to log into your frequent flyer account and make the booking yourself in the customer’s name.
But your name and frequent flyer number are still linked to the ticket, even though the ticket is for someone else!
While there’s nothing wrong with booking award tickets for others with your miles (Emily and I do this often for our family, for example), selling your miles violates the terms and conditions of every major frequent flyer program.
And very bad things can happen if you get caught!
Is This Legal?
There are no US laws (except in Utah) that prevent you from selling your miles to others. So you can’t be charged with a crime if you do this.
However, you’re breaking the rules of the airline’s frequent flyer program. For example, American Airlines AAdvantage program terms and conditions say:
At no time may AAdvantage mileage credit or award tickets be purchased, sold 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. Violators (including any passenger who uses a purchased or bartered award ticket) may be liable for damages and litigation costs, including American Airlines attorney’s fees incurred in enforcing this rule.
And United Airlines Mileage Plus rules are very clear:
The sale or barter or attempted sale or barter of any such mileage, certificates, awards or benefits other than as authorized and/or sponsored by United is expressly prohibited. Any mileage, certificates, awards or benefits transferred, assigned or sold in violation of the Program Rules, in addition to exposing the member to the penalties otherwise associated with violations, may be confiscated or canceled. The use of award tickets that have been acquired by purchase, barter or other conduct in violation of Program Rules may result in termination of membership, cancellation of accrued mileage, certificates, awards or benefits, confiscation of the tickets, denial of boarding with respect to the ticket holder, and, at United’s discretion, completion of the travel only upon payment of an applicable fare.
All major US airlines have similar language in their frequent flyer program rules.
What Happens If You’re Caught?
Selling your miles is a very risky proposition. Though many folks don’t get caught, some do, and the consequences can be bad for both you and the passenger using your miles.
And the airlines have really ramped up their fraud prevention departments in the last few years. They’re able to detect unusual account activity quite easily now, and even audit folks who legitimately use their miles to book tickets for friends or family.
Folks on this FlyerTalk thread report a wide range of penalties imposed by the airlines if they catch you, including:
- Cancellation of the award ticket
- Confiscation of any remaining miles in your frequent flyer account
- Freezing or cancelling your frequent flyer account
- Removal of elite status, upgrades, or any other perks associated with your frequent flyer account
- Attempts by airline to recover costs by threatening to sue, making you pay for a full fare ticket, etc.
The consequences are just NOT worth it. And most folks who get caught end up regretting the decision to sell their miles!
Plus, folks who do this are taking available award seats away from those of us who use our miles legitimately and want to travel.
So What Can You Do With Miles You Can’t Use?
Nobody wants to see their miles go to waste. Here are some ideas for what to do with airline miles you can’t use yourself.
1. Book Award Tickets for Your Friends and Family
Maybe you can’t use the miles, but have friends or family who can. You can book award tickets for anyone using your miles, as long as you’re not getting paid for them. So why not treat your parents, siblings, or close friends to a trip they otherwise might not have been able to afford?
Emily and I often use our miles to travel with our family. It’s our way of sharing the joy of getting Big Travel with Small Money!
You can also share miles with friends and family, but you’ll pay fees. For example, American Airlines charges $20 per 1,000 points you share, plus a $35 processing fee. But you won’t pay fees if you book tickets for loved ones directly.
2. Redeem or Transfer Miles Through Points.com
You can transfer miles between frequent flyer programs through Points.com. You can also trade miles with other frequent flyers, or redeem miles for merchandise, dining, Paypal credit, or gift cards.
Although airlines prohibit bartering miles, they’re collecting fees when you trade through Points.com, so in this case it’s okay.
I don’t normally recommend this, because you’ll lose a lot of miles in the transfer and will be charged fees (similar to what the airlines charge to transfer miles themselves). And if you’re trading miles for gift cards or merchandise, it’s not a very good value.
For example, a $100 Bed Bath and Beyond gift card costs over 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles! I’d rather use those miles for a round-trip ticket.
But if your miles are going to expire anyway (or you really have no better use for them), this could be a good deal for you.
3. Donate Miles to Charity
Most major US airlines give you the opportunity to donate miles to different charities. I like this idea very much! Wouldn’t you feel good knowing your miles have helped a child visit Disneyworld through Make-A-Wish America, or allowed wounded soldiers to travel for treatment at a military hospital?
Here are some of the programs you can donate your extra miles to:
- American Airlines Kids in Need and Operation Hero Miles
- United Charity Miles
- Delta Donate Miles
- US Airways Miles of Hope
- Alaska Airlines Charity Miles
- JetBlue True Giving
Note: Donations of airline miles are generally not tax-deductible.
If you have airline miles you can’t use or that are expiring soon, you might be tempted to sell them to an online miles broker. But it’s NOT a good idea! You could lose all your miles, have your frequent flyer account frozen, and worse!
There are many better ways to use those miles, like treating friends and family to a trip, donating to charity, or using Points.com to transfer or redeem miles for gift cards, merchandise, or Paypal credit.
Have you ever sold miles? Do you regret it? What other ways have you gotten rid of miles you can’t use?