Lawsuits by Frequent Fliers: Necessity or Greed?

A lawsuit with as many as 200,000,000 frequent flier loyalty program miles on the line was filed last month against US Airways, Hawaiian Airlines and two other companies by 26 people — some of whom are very well known to the frequent flier community — as a result of a seemingly generous promotion which offered substantial amounts of bonus frequent flier loyalty program miles in exchange for the purchase of Internet web hosting and storage through shopping portals.

The lawsuit — filed in the Superior Court Department of the Trial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts — claims that the litigants fulfilled the requirements of the promotion offered by a company called EasyCGI in which customers would receive 4,757 frequent flier loyalty program miles in exchange for the purchase of Internet web hosting and storage through the shopping portals of US Airways and Hawaiian Airlines. Additionally, there were no restrictions of any kind, including maximum limits on quantity.

After taking advantage of this promotion, FlyerTalk member beaubo — one of the 26 plaintiffs named in the lawsuit — reported that the offer was not being honored after all, despite numerous attempts to negotiate with key contacts in senior management with some of the companies named as defendants in the lawsuit. Purchases by some other participants in this promotion were reportedly canceled with refunds but no notification as to the reason why, although EasyCGI allegedly described some of the purchases as “fraudulent.” Still others have reportedly been charged for their purchases but either received the bonus frequent flier loyalty program miles but then had them subsequently taken away, or never received the bonus frequent flier loyalty program miles in the first place.

Additionally, EasyCGI allegedly adjusted the terms and conditions of the promotion to include limitations and restrictions not originally found when the promotion was first offered.

The Internet web hosting service was purportedly priced at $12.00 per purchase, meaning that each of the 4,757 frequent flier loyalty program miles for that purchase cost slightly greater than $0.0025. No, that is not a decimal error — that is two-tenths of one cent. Many frequent fliers who embark on “mileage runs” would jump on that valuation in a heartbeat — even with no Internet web hosting service included. Was this offer too good to be true? Could this offer be the result of a mistake, a glitch or a loophole?

No, claims beaubo, citing that a promotion with no restrictions was offered by Hawaiian Airlines at around the same time, with the difference that 7,269 frequent flier loyalty program miles would be awarded with each purchase — almost double the 4,757 with the promotion currently under legal dispute.

To complicate matters even further, FreeCause — an independent third party in this promotion which is a defendant named in the lawsuit along with EasyCGI, US Airways and Hawaiian Airlines — was supposedly named as a “rogue affiliate” by EasyCGI which promised the 4,757 frequent flier loyalty program miles with certain purchases of EasyCGI services. FreeCause apparently offered 10,000 frequent flier loyalty program miles as a way to settle this debacle, considered “pathetic” by FlyerTalk member HansGolden.

This is not the first case of a frequent flier filing a lawsuit against a company powering a shopping mall Internet web site for an airline in response to participating in an offer but not receiving what was promised. Back in April earlier this year, FlyerTalk member Marathon Man took Cartera to small claims court — also in Massachusetts — and sued for $7,000.00 plus expenses for not awarding him greater than 250,000 United Airlines MileagePlus miles after participating in greater than 300 outstanding transactions during the United Months of Miles debacle of a promotion from August of 2011. In addition to Marathon Man, other FlyerTalk members complained about not receiving their frequent flier loyalty program miles in a timely manner — or at all, for that matter.

Although Marathon Man finally received the United Airlines MileagePlus frequent flyer loyalty program miles which he was originally owed, FlyerTalk member CarteraCommerce — a company representative for Cartera — claimed that:

“In summary, the Magistrate ruled in favor of Cartera, which means that Cartera was not required to pay Marathon Man any part of the claim or costs outlined in the claim. There was no out-of-court settlement, and neither party is subject to any type of confidentiality agreement. Marathon Man did indeed receive all of the miles he requested Cartera to investigate, because Cartera’s customer care team successfully advocated on his behalf with each relevant merchant. Before he filed his lawsuit against Cartera, the customer care process had been completed for the missing miles inquiries discussed in his claim, and Cartera had requested that United Airlines move these awarded miles to his frequent flier account.”

Other FlyerTalk members have become wary of shopping mall Internet web sites representing airlines, such as this discussion in the US Airways forum where FlyerTalk member tommyleo advises fellow FlyerTalk members to “take serious advantage” of the Dividend Miles shopping mall Internet web site — only to be warned by fellow FlyerTalk members either to exercise caution, or to stay away from airline shopping mall Internet web sites altogether.

A precedent was set in the Cartera case where the plaintiff was awarded the frequent flier loyalty program miles due to him, although there is no definitive indication as to whether or not he was reimbursed for his time and expenses — legal and otherwise. Similarly, I would surmise that should the 26 plaintiffs be victorious in the lawsuit against US AIrways, Hawaiian Airlines, EasyCGI and FreeCause, they can expect a similar resolution.

Despite the disdain for airline shopping mall Internet web sites due to their allegedly poor track record, some people believe that the plaintiffs are perhaps too greedy and have taken this miles and points “game” too far. For example, the view of Seth Miller — author of The Wandering Aramean weblog at BoardingArea.com — regarding this current lawsuit is simply this: “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”

Is the current lawsuit a case of greedy frequent fliers trying to game the system as much as they can for as low of a cost per frequent flier loyalty program mile as possible — or is this retribution for a pattern of unethically deceptive practices by third-party companies which employ tactics such as “bait-and-switch” on unsuspecting customers?

Whatever is the answer, this whole situation is ugly and it will only get uglier, as disputes such as these should never get to the point of legal action. Ideally, they should be resolved long before legal action should even be considered.

Frankly, I have never purchased anything through a shopping mall Internet web site representing an airline. I only use the Internet shopping portals for airlines as a way of procuring free frequent flier loyalty program miles simply by performing searches, such as with the American Airlines AAdvantage shopping portal toolbar where I earn one American AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program mile for every three searches I perform, with a limit of up to 100 American AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program miles per month. This is a great way to keep your American AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program account active and prevent your AAdvantage miles from expiring, and it will not cost you a penny. All it costs is the time to search the Internet — something you already probably do regularly anyway.

The best part is that if I do not receive the frequent flier loyalty program miles for the searches I perform, I lose nothing. This happened to me earlier this year with the United Airlines MileagePlus shopping portal toolbar, with which other FlyerTalk members have also had issues. As a result, I simply uninstalled the toolbar — but I just reinstalled it as it is now a new version which supposedly offered 1,000 free United Airlines MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program miles just for downloading the toolbar and performing one search before October 31, 2012.

I have yet to see whether I receive free United Airlines MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program miles as a result of my searches. If not, I will uninstall the toolbar yet again.

Personally — while I will never say never — I would not consider filing a lawsuit against a company over missing frequent flier loyalty program miles, as I generally believe that it is not worth the time and effort. Additionally, when considering legal costs, it most likely is not worth the expense either…

…but perhaps that is exactly how the third-party companies hope that we think and behave, which may be why there have not been many more lawsuits against these companies.

Then again, some people are disappointed — and believe that it is hypocritical — that the plaintiffs would even consider filing suit in the first place when some of them are supposedly on record advising fellow frequent fliers not to sue, but then apparently ignore that advice when it involves themselves.

What do you think? Would you initiate legal action against a company which did not award you the frequent flier loyalty program miles which you have rightfully earned, even if the cost per mile is ridiculously low?

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Comments (Showing 3 of 3)

  • srdshelly at 3:57am November 05, 2012

    Suppose a merchant selling widgets mistakenly offered a price of 30 cents, when they really meant $30 each. And Beaubo and the rest each ordered 6,000,000 widgets. Do you really think the merchant would honor the price and ship the widgets? No, they would cancel the sale and return Beaubo’s money. Greed, greed, greed. These people are very, very good at playing naive when it suits them. I do not think these people have rightfully earned anything except their money back, and ultimately they are bad for the rest of us, because companies will stop making offers.

  • peachfront at 7:19am November 05, 2012

    The entire purpose of having a system of courts, instead of guys battling it out at the dueling oaks or in our streets, is to have an unbiased judge or jury decide the matter. There is absolutely nothing greedy or hoggish about filing a lawsuit when you have a dispute that you cannot resolve with a reasonable discussion with the other party. I respect Seth and enjoy reading his site, but to diss the fine folks for filing a lawsuit as “hogs” does not strike me as fair. With hundreds of millions of miles, worth potentially millions of dollars, at stake, it’s a case that should be decided in a court of law . I am completely baffled that anyone thinks a consumer should walk away with a shrug, without letting a neutral judge make the ruling, when you consider the amount of money involved. Sure, I’ve never filed a lawsuit over missing miles. That’s because the largest amount I’ve ever been cheated of was 25,000 miles, which AA never awarded after I signed up for a stock brokerage back in the late 1990s. They didn’t honor it, they just kept saying that the miles were coming in a few weeks…and finally, yep, I gave up because I’m a busy person and I have stuff to do. But if they had offered me 25 million miles, I would have certainly taken the paperwork, the multiple emails and letters promising the miles, and all the rest of the documentation from the stock brokerage showing that I had invested WAY more than the minimum amount required by the offer, and I would have filed a lawsuit. At some point, the money you got promised is too much to walk away from. Businesses should not be allowed to make wild promises and then not follow through. If an individual promises millions of dollars worth of property in compensation for some activity, it’s fraud if you don’t follow through and you’d find yourself in court real quick. It’s only fair that a business should play by the same rules. I don’t know the specifics of this promotion, and I don’t know who is right and who is wrong…but everyone is entitled to their day in court when big money is involved. Everyone. And they shouldn’t be shouted down and called “hogs” for asking for a fair hearing of their case.

  • dliesse at 10:41am December 11, 2012

    If I could afford it, then certainly I would consider such a lawsuit. An offer was made and it was accepted; it should be carried through. Even if the published offer was a mistake, I think it should be honored — does the advertiser/promoter/whoever have no responsibility to do any proofreading before something goes out? If the mistake is made by a third-party intermediary (such as if a newspaper reverses some digits when typesetting an ad), then the dispute should be with them, not with the person accepting the offer.

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