A loyalty scam sold to the uninformed

Imagine earning points and stay credits in a hotel loyalty program without needing to actually sleep in the room. Pretty amazing, right?

What if you didn’t even have to pay for the room night? That would be incredible, no doubt.

And what if you could actually get someone else to pay you a small sum to “facilitate” the booking. You’d be earning points, credits and cash all at the same time.

It is also a gross violation of program rules and a pretty crappy way to teach newcomers to the points game about how the programs work. But for $10 a month there’s an “expert” out there willing to sell you his experience and expertise in precisely this way.

This scheme is similar to how folks attempt to skirt the rules for selling airline upgrade vouchers. Search on eBay and the listings are plentiful, nearly all offering “advice” on how to get a discounted upgrade that just so happens to include the “gift” of a “free” GPU certificate. The airline is not fooled by such efforts. It can and does close accounts and cancel tickets without recourse when it so chooses. Selling upgrades in this way is a common entry point into that experience.

Sure, you can buy "advice" about upgrades on eBay. And there's a decent chance your trip gets screwed. Don't be that fool.
Sure, you can buy “advice” about upgrades on eBay. And there’s a decent chance your trip gets screwed. Don’t be that fool.

Getting to a hotel and finding that you’re the secondary guest on a booking and unable to check in without the other person there would really, really suck. And it probably won’t happen too often, but when it does the subscriber who paid for those services is well and truly screwed.

The part that really bothers me is the claim, “My goal is to share my knowledge of the travel industry with you so you can travel more, fly further and stay in nicer hotels, all without breaking the bank!”

Teaching fraud rather than how the system works is not that.

It disappoints me because there are many great people offering great advice. The mountain of knowledge in this space is nearly infinite; learning it all would take forever. And there are so many people helping newcomers to digest the little bits they need to “level up” just a smidgen. There are even the occasional shortcuts that help immensely. All without being fraud.

And then there’s this guy. That sucks.

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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 make a few bucks here and there through the ads and such. But it isn’t my primary income and probably never will be. I’m okay with that.

      Even without charging it is questionable behavior. With the additional payment there it is really shitty IMO.

    2. Other than ad-free reading or just knowing that you’re helping me out I’m not sure that there’s much for me to offer as a paid option. I did add one (been in the works for a while), just to see how it plays out, but my expectations are relatively low.

    1. I specifically did not name him in the post. There are enough hints that I think he’s pretty easy to find. That quote I pulled is direct from the Patreon page. 😉

  1. @ Seth — Teaching fraud is how many BoardingArea bloggers got started (yourself NOT included).

  2. Good post Seth – As someone who designs and runs programs, I’d prefer to spend my time being innovative and giving all members meaningful benefits and indeed opportunities to input in to future evolution. Fraud is becoming so widespread that it is threatening the sustainability of programs, so much so that lots of time is now spent on closing loopholes, and putting pressure on front-line employees to disappoint customers by turning them away, #Letskeeployaltyfun

    1. We need another night in London with a few pints to talk about these problems. This is hardly the worst of it.

      Also, pints in London is always a good thing.

      1. Seth, I think you have a pretty good idea how much this type of thing disturbs me. Especially, the absolutely public nature of the solicitation. People often do favours for family+friends (which do not follow all loyalty program terms&conditions), but this is an entirely different thing. This is MONETISING something that is NOT the blogger’s to MONETISE.

  3. Time’s running out to get your own $1 billion Zimbabwean dollar bill, now just $10, shipping and handling extra.

  4. There are bloggers/people out there who like to subsidize their vacations and benefit from loyalty status level by offering to have someone book a room for them so the person booking the room can get the stay credit/points, and the blogger/person will offer to pay a percentage of the cost of the room. Thus, they get the status level of the person booking the room, along with all the tier benefits, and are paying a small percentage for the stay. – hey ho, cheap vacay! The person booking the room gets a stay credit towards re-qualifying for the elite level at less of a cost than if they paid for the room themselves.

    I can’t decide whether I think this is a great ‘win-win’ or a sleazy way to subsidize a vacation/achieve elite status. Part of me thinks it’s a quid pro quo type of thing, but the ethical part of me rails against it. I kinda admire the ingenuity of it in a way, but also think it is just a sleazy way to sponge off someone else. I’m Torn!

    1. I’m very familiar with the practice. I typically see it with friends & family or the occasional subsidized stay. Even there I believe it sketchy at best.

      This takes it to a whole different level, both in the brazenness of advertising it and also charging for it.

  5. Usually I get peeved when people throw “fraud” around when it is not warranted. But this seems to actually meet all the elements. Good on ya for calling it out.

  6. This is why we can’t have nice things.

    I feel like I say that too often.

    I can imagine that I’m not the only one who isn’t completely lilly white, though. I have made bookings in the past for family and friends so they can get my benefits and I can get the points they don’t want…the real difference is I don’t charge anyone for my “service”.

    1. And, Ross, you’re not doing it to subsidize your own vacation! You’re doing it to help family/friends. I get a little bent out of shape when I see people posting on FB….”hey, let me help you get to your elite status faster… you pay the majority of the cost of a room, I’ll stay there and pay part of the cost, so I’m helping you out ….” Just seems like sponging off people, to me.

      I’m not against the practice of booking rooms for friends/family so it’s a ‘win win’ for both sides; but, to brazenly request it on FB and couch it is a way that you are doing someone a favor …yeah, right! It’s all about sponging and getting a subsidized vacation along with all the benefits being top tier elite brings (and without having to do the legwork yourself to get that status).

    2. I’ve never done a second guest booking for a stay where I wasn’t showing up, except to gift a stay once to a friend who was unemployed, had to travel to a job interview in a different city, for which he used his own WN points to pay for the flight, but needed a room for a night. I used some IHG points to book him a room at a Holiday Inn, with him listed as a second guest and note in the reservation he’d be arriving before me and for the hotel to call me if there were issues checking him in (there were none). I had status at the time, and he got a free breakfast out of that, plus a gift bag with a couple of bottles of water and a snack. But, that was more about being generous with my points to help a friend in need than me getting anything out of it. I’d really like for that kind of opportunity to not be ruined by sleazy tactics like people intentionally using second guests on reservations to help renew their own status on someone else’s dime, and then also making a profit off of it.

      Abuse breaks the system for everyone, and takes away the innocent, occasional uses that shouldn’t be a problem (like what I described) for everyone.

      1. I’ve spent enough time around the people who run these programs to learn that they aren’t stupid but also that they aren’t going to chase down every single potential “fraud” case so much as track more systemic fraud. The problem is when they do have to fix the problem it can either be by screwing everyone or just little things.

        Also, I really have no problems calling out behavior as bad as this. It is all sorts of scummy. If he wants to be a Virtuoso agent then go for it. But don’t charge people for that and don’t lie about what you’re actually delivering.

      1. Then he’s naive and lacks self-awareness —– either that, or he’s a legend in his own mind!

  7. All I see is references to Virtuoso and FHR. Aren’t those valid? Not that I agree with the fee. But I don’t think booking that way is a scam. Right?

    Now of course, attention has been drawn to the practice mentioned in your post. I had 2 nights booked for my sister. Thinking I can’t do that anymore.

    1. Virtuoso is legit, assuming he’s an agent. I do not believe FHR is valid as booking for a 3rd party. That’s tied to being a cardholder last I checked. Plus there’s the part where I know that what I described is one of the offerings. Moreover, charging someone $10/month to access Virtuoso rates is pretty shitty. Why would a customer pay extra for a booking service that is widely available elsewhere.

      As for not doing it anymore for friends & family, it is certainly a grey area. I think most programs understand that it happens and some even allow for gifting the benefits in certain circumstances. Like many things in this industry I think an old adage applies: Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered. Don’t be stupid or greedy about it and you should be fine.

      1. You hit it on the head, Seth … ‘pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered’. This is why so many avenues get shut down…

  8. People have been buying/selling/transferring UR points, MR points and airline miles since eons. This seems similar.
    Can somebody explain the modus operandi of this person?

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