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Social Influencer Banned for Life for Scamming a Free Upgrade

Social Influencer Banned for Life for Scamming a Free Upgrade
Jennifer Billock

Have you ever tried to talk your way into an upgrade or even just into a seat with more legroom on a flight? Well, if you have in the past and plan to do so in the future, be careful — airlines are getting savvy to the tricks travelers pull when trying to get upgrades and you could get completely banned.

If you’ve ever tried to trick your way into an upgrade, now might be a good time to never do that again. Some airlines, like Cathay Pacific, have had enough.

One Cathay Pacific passenger says that she found that out the hard way when she reached out to Cathay Pacific for a complimentary upgrade for her roundtrip flight from New York City to Taiwan in May because of her status as a “social influencer.” Cathay responded saying that they’d be glad to extend a free business class upgrade if there were seats available.

“Because of your social network, we would like to formally extend a Business Class upgrade to you on the day of your flight, should any tickets still be available at check-in,” read the e-mail from Cathay that she provided Elliott Advocacy when she contacted them for help, “Feel free to document your travels with us…” So, says Ng, she printed out the e-mail and took it with her as “proof” that she was offered the upgrade.

Ng showed the email to the gate agent for her first flight, was told that they couldn’t accommodate her upgrade, and she flew from Taiwan to New York in her original premium economy seat without incident. But, says Ng, when she showed the agent her upgrade letter the gate agent called for his supervisor who “proceeded to give me a ‘refusal of carriage letter’ 30 minutes later. He stated that security said that Cathay Pacific did not send that email and that I had committed fraud.”

Ng was forced to buy another ticket back to Taiwan, then reached out to Cathay Pacific and their parent company Swire for help. But they responded by agreeing with the gate agent’s supervisor: the letter was fraudulent. But, they offered her the opportunity to prove that her letter was real.

Dear Ms Ng

In the case that you are certain of the authenticity of your emails, please facilitate our further investigation by sending us:

 1. A copy of the email you sent to us prior to boarding of your flight on 07 June 2019 as mentioned in your email to Swire on 27 June 2019;

2. *The “.eml” document of the two upgrade emails you received from us. You may follow the steps as detailed in the attached document;

3.  Any other supporting information. (Cathay Pacific)

That, says Elliot Advocacy, is when “things got a little weird.” Ng refused to provide any proof and told Swire that not only did she not see “the relevance of this request,” but followed up by demanding that all further communication go through her legal counsel. Unfortunately, Cathay Pacific stood by their lifetime ban but did refund the unused segment of her flight. Ng says she now plans to get a lawyer to help with her case. Elliott Advocacy warned all readers that airlines seem more willing than ever to put passengers on the blacklist.


View Comments (21)


  1. northsideguy

    September 25, 2019 at 6:43 pm

    There is a article by Elliott Advocacy with much more information and Cathy Pacific’s investigation and the copy of the emails that were presented.

    This is an interesting quote from Elliott Advocacy:

    “Because of your social network, we would like to extend a Business Class upgrade to you…”
    Nowhere in any of Ng’s correspondence with the airline or with me until that point did she mention anything about being a social media influencer. But in the email that Cathay Pacific says is a fraud, it’s clear she’s presented herself as an influencer to request an upgrade.

  2. Cymbo

    September 25, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    What a piece of work!

  3. sbrower

    September 25, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    I don’t see where comments are posted.

  4. rylan

    September 26, 2019 at 11:24 am

    Anybody claiming to be a ‘social influencer’ should get nothing extra.

  5. John Aldeborgh

    September 27, 2019 at 4:11 am

    Some facts are clearly missing here. The fact the influencer wants to involve a lawyer leads me to believe the Airline is in the right. Also, I agree with the sentiment that a ‘social influencer’ should get nothing that any regular passenger should receive. The notion of a ‘social influencer’ is egotistical nonsense.

  6. pdisme


    September 27, 2019 at 4:40 am

    If they banned her for life for even trying that BS I’d buy a ticket on one of their flights right now.

  7. pmiranda

    September 27, 2019 at 5:30 am

    At first blush it seems like Cathay overreacted, but if they went to effort to check that the person that supposedly sent the email really didn’t send it, then a lifetime ban for fraud sounds about right.

  8. zitsky

    September 27, 2019 at 5:32 am

    Social influencers? The whole thing is a joke!

  9. ontheroad

    September 27, 2019 at 6:22 am

    This article states, “Cathay responded saying that they’d be glad to extend a free business class upgrade if there were seats available.” However, it should read that Ms. Ng *claimed* that Cathay responded. The original post on did not establish that the complementary upgrade email from Cathay was legitimate.

  10. Bear4Asian

    September 27, 2019 at 8:49 am

    And how does it help here case the mention of working for Swire for a very short time?. A skeptic could think she worked there long enough to figure out this type os scam.

  11. hsumh316

    September 27, 2019 at 9:10 am

    Did she email or fill out a form? Her name is not very unique so I am not even sure how they know she was a “social influencer”. I have never seen anyone show a document having to do with upgrades. When asked by Cathay to provide the metadata and she refused and responded by saying it is irrelevant, isnt exactly going to help your case.

  12. crunchie

    September 27, 2019 at 9:31 am

    Read through the whole write-up on Elliot Advocacy’s site. Looks like Michelle did a thorough job investigating what she could without court orders. So far, everything publicly available (on many sites) point to a scam gone bad and the scammer’s ego not willing to back down or perhaps the person simply cannot without damaging her career since it went public. She doesn’t realize how lucky she is with CX not bringing her up on fraud charges. With the first attempt in New York, depending on what she actually did to get the letter, she could be facing felony forgery charges with very real possibility of jail time.

    It’s easy to pull logs from mail servers from both parties. I won’t be surprised if CX’s legal team have already extracted and stored the records following evidence handling procedures to protect CX. Ng might just be delaying things until it fades away.

  13. tromboneboss

    September 27, 2019 at 10:58 am

    This lady sounds like a bad person. I wouldn’t want to do business with her either.

  14. alphaod

    September 27, 2019 at 11:09 am

    Social influencers is a thing.

    Whenever you threaten legal action, the game is over folks. Nobody is gonna help you.

  15. st3

    September 27, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    Social media influencers need to die off. What a stupid thing in the first place.

  16. RandyN

    September 27, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    I really despise “influencers,” but I love reading stories about businesses who tell these parasites to pound sand.

  17. lianluo

    September 27, 2019 at 9:37 pm

    I agree with Crunchie, pulling email logs with IP addresses is easy. The fact that she won’t do so tells me she got caught. Anyone one of us who fly and enjoy those precious upgrades would have the sense to keep our emails if we had such an offer and at the slightest whiff of being thought a fraud would clear it up very quickly. I suspect she thought she could pull a fast one and didn’t appreciate that airlines have pretty much seen it all.

  18. ksandness

    September 28, 2019 at 8:10 am

    I’ve heard of people being taken in by scams like that, but in this case, the court should be able to find out the IP address from which the e-mail was sent and prove that it was either Ms. Ng or some scammer who sent it.

  19. SamirD

    September 28, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    Social Influencer is just another name for ‘Free Advertising’ for a company. It’s not a bad system when not abused, the free advertising is organic and the person doing the review or whatever gets traffic for their platform. SEMA had a program like this call the ‘Enthusiast Opinion Leader’ that you had to apply for and I was lucky enough to qualify and go. And it was a great experience for sure and a great bit of advertising for the conference and trade show.

    The problem is that there are always the ‘wannabes’ that want the goods without the work. Those guys will always be out there, and if this is one of them, then good to see another one ‘out of business’.

  20. j2simpso

    September 29, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    Regardless of what you think of the case, the fact that the influencer was unwilling to share the correspondence they received should speak volumes to the case they had. If I was in their shoes and legitimately received such an offer from CX, I wouldn’t hesitate to forward it on to them. If anything such evidence would make CX back-pedal, offer free tickets, award miles, etc.

    Based on what we’ve seen so far it would appear that they abused her “influencer” status to get what they wanted. The only difference between them and self-upgraders is they remained in the cabin they were originally ticketed in.

  21. downinit

    September 30, 2019 at 11:45 am

    Influencers should definitely get free flights…on a 737 Max…with an untrained pilot. That would definitely get a few hits on social media!

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