Wholesale airline ticket brokers are like modern day Robin Hoods, purchasing air miles from the rich and re-gifting them to the middle class at heavily discounted rates so even those of more moderate means can afford to travel in luxury at the price of a coach ticket.
OK, Robin Hood’s a bit of a stretch given the airline mile consolidation business is a solid money-maker, but nonetheless the only so-called victims are the airlines. The very same airlines that continue to unrelentingly reduce your legroom, seat width, cushion density and make you pay extra for everything from selecting your seat to in-flight entertainment - once all standard.
There are as many as 15 consolidating travel companies today offering everyday humans heavily discounted business class and first class tickets at as much as 80 percent off the going rate. It’s a grey market. And understanding it all is more confusing than the Game of Thrones’ re-introductions of long forgotten story lines - Benjen, Littlefinger and the whole Ironborn thing, anyone? So we tracked down an industry insider to find out everything you need to know about scoring massive discounts on those luxury seats. And it’s surprisingly nowhere near as shady or scary as it first seems…
THE RED BULLETIN: What are wholesale airline miles companies and how does it work?
INDUSTRY INSIDER: What we do is get you rewards tickets. And that’s legitimate. When people fly, they get points. When people use credit cards, they get points. And if you accumulate 200,000 points and you want to give them to your friend, you can. You’re allowed to gift flights to your friends and family whenever you want. So what we do is take points from Client A and give them to Client B. We’re match makers. We find flights available, allocate the points and it comes up much cheaper than the average fair. We try to save customers at least 50 percent.
What are the risks? Is it illegal?
I’d say 1 in 100 that airline staff might tap you on the shoulder at the airport. But that’s only a certain few rare airlines - airlines that we don’t use anyway. Even then, it’s not illegal. They have people on computers trying to catch us because they’d rather have someone paying full price for a seat then people utilizing the points other clients have genuinely earned.
What do we do if we get tapped on the shoulder?
If you were that lucky one in 100 or more? Haha. No. It’s not illegal for friends, family or colleagues to gift points. Most airlines we use there won’t be any issues. But if we suspected there might be an issue, I would give you the information of the person who gave you the points and you’d tell staff they’re your brother in law, married sister, your boss or whatever. The airlines can’t do anything. They don’t have any proof that you paid for the points. That’s the only grey area but there’s no way of proving whether it was a present or paid for. We book your flights legitimately like any travel agent. You pay using your credit card like you normally would.
If my ticket is deemed invalid, what about my trip and my money?
We offer either full money-back refund or will put you on another flight at no cost to the client. I always tell my customers there is a one per cent chance you may be taken aside by airline staff. But we take responsibility up to what the client paid for. I’ll reimburse the money or get you on another flight the same day.
Is it a gamble?
Sure. You take a gamble and most of the time it works. It’s a safe bet. If it doesn’t, you’ll still get to where you’re going - just on a different airline. Worse case scenario, you end up flying at a later time on a different airline. We take care of everything.
Why can’t I just do an upgrade at the airport myself?
You’re taking a big chance with the airlines’ last minute options and it will cost you maybe $600 at least. They don’t offer it always and a lot of times it’s full. Then you’re flying coach. With a miles service, you can guarantee a seat in advance at a great discount.
Where do the miles/points come from?
Mostly from traveling businessmen and women who have no way of ever using them. I know people who have 10 or 20 millions points. They can never use them all. They can’t fly the whole world over and over. They have to give it away to people. We match them with people who need them.
Who uses the services?
We’ve been at this for 10 years or so. And there are a lot more celebrities than you’d think. We’ve done tickets for a lot of big celebrities and they have no issues. Other than that, everyday normal people. Businessman, holidayers. Anyone who wants to fly in luxury but doesn’t want to pay full price.
It costs $6,500 to fly business from LAX to Australia this week. What’s your rate?
At the moment, we’re getting return business class flights to Australia for around $3,500. That’s not the biggest discount. But with Delta or Qantas they are upwards of $6,000. As much as double during peak times. Australia is unique though because there aren’t many direct flights. There’s not much competition. The more competition, the better the deals we can get. Like New York to London, there are 40 flights a day. It depends on the route.