And this is why breaking the rules for more than a decade is a bad idea

Just a friendly reminder that claiming ignorance of the rules doesn’t mean that the airlines won’t shut you down – hard – when they decide that you’ve been violating them. And when the violations have been going on for 15 years and the company sent you a letter 10 years ago to stop it that probably doesn’t help your case. But that’s the story being told this week about Lynn Harrell, a cellist who flies around the world performing and who always buys an extra seat for his cello. Turns out that he’s also been collecting frequent flyer points for the cello and Delta doesn’t really like that.

His account was terminated in January (not sure why it took 10 months for the public shaming efforts to materialize) and now he’s without the account for his cello or for himself. And he claims to have lost "several hundred thousand" points in both accounts. Oh, and he’s blacklisted from joining the SkyMiles program again, too. Presumably so is the cello. Harrell blogged about the event as well, including this nugget:

I am sorry and perplexed that airlines like Delta are willing to turn down the opportunity to maintain long-time customers and income (my career has been in full swing for more than 40 years!) for nothing more than the ability to make a quick one-off buck now by selling my miles.

I actually believe that the guy probably didn’t know he was breaking the rules. And it seems strange that it took Delta a decade to follow up on the initial communication about the practice. I’m guessing there is a little more to the story, but what there is there is definitely entertaining.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I think its stupid. He bought the seats so they should earn miles. If the cello wants to give its miles to someone thats its choice.

    1. The policy varies by airline, That John. Some airlines permit it and some don’t. I don’t think any of them let the second account earn elite status so they wouldn’t also get the bonus miles to make buying multiple seats on mileage runs a smart investment but some do earn.

  2. Looking at the comments on the cellist’s blog, another cellist had his cello’s Skymiles account closed as well, but was allowed to transfer the accumulated miles into his own account and can continue to earn miles for the second seat in his own account. So apparently not all Cellos are being treated equal at Delta.

  3. I personally don’t see anything wrong with this. Can someone with knowledge of the SkyMiles rules enlighten us as to what rule that Mr. Harrell is in violation of?

    If he paid for two seats, I believe he should earn for two seats, whether that’s paid into his account or the cello’s.

  4. @Stacey: I don’t think DL values instruments. After all, their SWUs are practically worthless instruments. 😉

  5. I get it that rules are rules, but Delta ought to assume that he acted in good faith and perhaps follow up a second time.

    I can see summarily closing his cello’s account, but to close his real account without a second notice is reprehensible.

  6. Perhaps Mr. Harrell should take a look at the guitar guide video on Youtube for inspiration 🙂

  7. He paid for 2 seats he should get miles for both. Airlines want to nickle and dime you to death these days so damn right he should get the miles!

  8. If I buy two tickets, one for myself and one for someone else, I can only get miles for my account for my own seat. The other person can get the miles for theirs. But a cello is not a person, and I think Skymiles accounts are required to be for people. He was abusing the program. Whether Delta should shut him down or not for it is Delta’s decision to make.

  9. We always knew Delta is tone deaf when it comes to customer satisfaction. Maybe one day they will harmonize better with passengers

  10. Umm. He’s been selling his miles too from that quote. Sorry Delta is well within its rights to cancel his account. Especially after it warned him of the practice.

  11. Hey, Ananth – I went to Harrell’s site and read the mess: doesn’t he claim that his TA didn’t get any notification of a violation until this one, and doesn’t he also claim that he used the cello’s miles only for the cello?

    I see no justification for DL’s abrupt actions – or for most of DL’s actions anytime …

  12. Raises an interesting tangential question. Should obese folks forced to buy 2 seats earn double miles? Could they redeem them for a single seat in J, where they might fit in the wider seats?

  13. My only question is, if DL wants to restrict people from earning miles for buying a second seat, then why didn’t they update the system to add a restriction where you can only earn miles once per given flight?

    A little effort on the backend would have easily avoided this kind of nonsense.

    1. I think the problem, golfingboy, is that the second ticket was under an almost real name rather than LNAME/EXTRASEAT or something like that. So that likely messed up their systems. I also don’t understand why DL didn’t just shut down the cello account a while ago but so it goes.

  14. If Lynn Harrell is interested, I know a travel blogger that can try to help him out here with an age discrimination lawsuit

Comments are closed.