Randy Petersen, the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based editor and publisher of the Inside Flyer newsletter and perhaps the nation's leading authority on frequent-flier programs, says the brokering of mileage coupons isn't officially illegal in any state but Utah, where the practice was barred about two years ago.
However, Petersen also says that as the economy has sputtered and the airline industry has cut domestic prices, the mileage coupon-brokering industry has shriveled from more than $100 million a year in 1989 to about $25 million now. As the market has contracted, Petersen suggests, the reputation of brokers has suffered. Of those who remain in the business, he says, "I know a lot of them have ripped people off."
Petersen also points out that airlines have gotten more sophisticated in their ability to detect fraud - which is what they consider coupon brokering to be - and have been known to expel practitioners from their mileage programs. If you're often on the road, Petersen counsels, flying on bought or traded coupons could "put at risk a lot of miles."
Those factors alone might give some consumers pause. But they're not the only reason Petersen advises against coupon buying and trading. The brokering process, he argues, puts people who haven't "earned" miles on planes. And since airlines typically earmark just 10% or fewer of their seats for travelers using mileage awards, those who buy or trade for coupons often gain their seats at the expense of travelers who have followed the airlines' restrictions to the letter. That, says Petersen, doesn't seem sporting."