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AIRLINES: Mind your miles

It wasn’t bad enough that your airline frequent-flier miles can expire. Now, thieves are trying to book free flights with your miles.

Does this sound like you?

You stalk the online travel agencies and booking sites, looking for the cheapest airfare from A to B, regardless of airline. Over time, you’ve gotten pretty good at finding them.

And each time you find one on a different airline, you sign up for its frequent flier program to make sure you get credit for those miles.

Result: You now have multiple memberships in multiple airline loyalty programs, perhaps even a dozen or more — and not enough miles on any of them to give you a free flight.

The result of that: You toss the membership cards in a drawer and forget about them — and the miles you’ve accrued on them — until it’s time for your next trip.

You seldom log on to the airlines’ Web sites to check the status of your miles. And you haven’t changed the password on any of them in years.

That indifference could prove costly.

Just because you don’t have enough for that free round-the-world dream flight in Champagne Class doesn’t mean those miles have no value.

You can make online purchases of other goods or services. You can donate them to charity. you could even make gifts of them to family and friends.

Whatever you choose to do with them, they’re yours, so you need to look after them. Because there are plenty of people out there who would love to separate them from you, starting with the airlines themselves.

With some air carriers, your miles are good indefinitely. With most, they’re not. They come with an expiration date. Let that date come and go and you can say good-bye to your precious miles.

Lately, however, a new and far more sinister threaten to your miles has reared its criminal head. Thieves are stalking your frequent-flier miles.

According to the Associated Press, at least two major airlines, American and United, have reported attempts by thieves using stolen login credentials to book free flights or upgrades.

United reported nearly 40 successful mileage thefts. American has confirmed two, so far.

It’s not just the airlines. Digital crooks have broken into hotel loyalty accounts in similar fashion.

The moral: check in on your frequent-flier accounts from time to time. Know how many miles you have in each. Change your passwords every several months. Don’t make it something that a crook could easily guess…or keep it in a place where a thief could easily find it. And don’t use the same password for every account.

Your airline miles are valuable, and they’re yours. Protect them.

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