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Consumer Advocate Sounds the Alarm on “Mileage Broker” Scams

Bargain hunting travelers are warned to beware of unscrupulous airline ticket brokers offering too-good-to-be-true deals that require the purchase of other passengers’ unused rewards points.

Travel consumer advocate Ed Perkins, the founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter and current Smart Travel blogger, has a warning for travelers looking for a great deal on airfares. Perkins explains that some too-good-to-be-true first- and business-class fares might be the result of an under-the-radar scheme by so-called “mileage brokers” who use surplus frequent flyer miles purchased from businesses and passengers to create and sell airline bookings at hard-to-pass-up prices.

The problem with this practice, Perkins points out, is that nearly all commercial carriers forbid the buying and selling of unused miles and according to most terms of carriage, the airline can void itineraries booked through a mileage broker without notice or compensation. While it’s certainly possible travel booked using this all-too-clever technique might just go unnoticed by the airline, the risk of consumers having travel plans canceled at the last minute makes the savings seem somewhat penny smart and pound foolish.

Perkins explains that he isn’t opposed to a bargain or even a third-party ticket broker, but he warns that tickets booked using someone else’s loyalty points should be a non-starter. At the same time, he notes that by no means are all of the great deals advertised suspect.

”While mileage broker deals can seem pretty sweet, you don’t have to use purchased frequent flyer miles to find discounted premium economy, business, and first class options,” Perkins writes. “The traditional “consolidator” system is still operating: Non-mileage broker agencies negotiate contracts with airlines to sell seats at discounted below-published-fare prices.”

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