Mileage whore

When I was new to business travel I proudly called myself a mileage whore. I’d do just about anything for an upgrade or extra frequent flyer miles. Recently I heard a scheme from an acquaintance that puts my hijinks to shame. In fact, I think it crosses the line.

This person, let’s call him FlyGuy, makes it a contractual stipulation of employment that he will use his own frequent flyer miles for normal business trips (not upgrades) if his company will reimburse him for 75% of the face ticket value. The pitch (he’s a salesman) is that this saves the company 25% on every ticket. The company loves it and they do it. This is how he travels.

First things first. To me, it matters how you accumulated these miles. If they are 100% from your own out-of-pocket expenses in a way this is a fair trade. Sort of. (More on that in a second.) But the reality is that most miles are acquired through business travel, paid for by your company. FlyGuy has been with a number of companies, mostly start-ups, so his balance (I reckon) is comprised of miles originally paid for by different companies.
The point is that he is actually earning income by cashing in a “credit” obtained from money spent by an employer.

Now, you will say, this is a personal perk that is his to do with as he pleases. And if his company is willing to go along with it, what’s the harm? Two things. First, FlyGuy is essentially selling a benefit given by his company back to his company. Like saying, no thanks I’ll pass on the dental plan so pay me $2000 extra.

Second is the potential for abuse. Consider this scenario: You can choose between two flights to NYC. One leaves at 6AM and costs $200, the other leaves at 7AM and costs $600 (for whatever reason, discrepancies like this happen all the time). You’re going to choose the $600 ticket because you’ll “earn” $450 rather than $150. The frequent flyer mileage required to obtain the ticket is, presumably, identical since it is the same route. Where is the incentive to go with the lowest fare? There isn’t one. The incentive now is reversed. In reality the employer may be saving 25% but paying for a more expensive base ticket than they would otherwise have to.

Airlines do offer the ability to purchase frequent flyer miles. They are pretty costly, but if you had to have a scheme like this it seems a fairer trade to have your employer pay what you’d have to pay to buy the miles rather than to buy the ticket.

I have a feeling many of the business travellers who read this blog will disagree with me. Comments welcome.

4 Responses to “Mileage whore”

  1. HollyRhea says :

    All I can think is…Why don’t I have a job that requires travel?

  2. Bryce says :

    Waittaminit.. I’ve never worked for a company that didn’t just let me -keep- the miles (on their dime.) You’re telling me that isn’t the norm?

  3. John says :

    Oh no, that’s definitely the norm. But imagine if you could then sell those miles back to the company at a profit, potentially for a fare that was not the lowest you could get. There’s something not right about that, in my opinion.

  4. Mark says :

    The average valuation of miles to my company is $.015 per mile, so they will pay me $375 to cash in 25,000 of my airline miles (round trip coach air flight). I then take this one step further though, and use the cash to build complex itineraries (mileage runs) to earn elite status by picking a weekend and flying 10-15 airline segments, which would earn somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 miles back into my account and get me closer to sitting in first class every flight I fly… it works out.