Does points and miles collecting encourage unethical behavior?

I have no interest or intention in preaching or judging about this…I’m just curious. I know that we all have a different level of what is ethically acceptable, but I have to wonder if the hobby of points and miles collecting is pushing people’s ethical boundaries farther and farther back, a little at a time, until after awhile what once seemed objectionable is now commonplace.

It’s definitely an adrenaline rush to get in on an amazing deal, and it’s so satisfying to anticipate a luxurious trip that you got for free (or almost free) by using points and miles, but if you get the deals and take the trips by dipping into a well of questionable ethics, are they worth it?

What is the real cost? The karmic cost?

I think one reason that ethical lines are a little blurry in this hobby is that it already feels like we’re getting something for nothing when we redeem an award flight or a free hotel night. It seems too good to be true. 

I think it’s also really easy to be influenced by the “blink-and-you’ll miss it” deals that happen almost daily around here. It also might feel more acceptable because “everyone is doing it.”

What do you think?

Yesterday, I saw several posts around the web about how to earn Hyatt Platinum Status instantly, or Hyatt Diamond status with 5 fewer stays than are normally required (20 stays instead of 25). The only catch is that these offers were meant for Microsoft employees. Sure, the link was just enticingly out there for anyone to find and use, but…does that mean “anyone” should?

This is just one example, and I’m not trying to single anyone out or point fingers…but I am truly curious. I’d love to know what you think. About all of it.

Have your ethical boundaries changed since you discovered points and miles? Where do you draw the line?



  1. Why should Microsoft Millionaires get a lower threshold to obtain Hyatt Diamond status than the rest of us?

    Everyone is doing it.

    You snooze, you lose.

    These are just some of the rationales I’ve seen in the last 24 hours. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I don’t like it when I book an airline fare at a certain price point and then a week later the rate is lowered in half and I missed out and the airline refuses to honor the distance — unlike a hotel chain which will instantly lower it. What is ethical in the airline’s case?

    And don’t get me started on obvious mistake fares. $100 round trip in first class from New York to Hawaii! Done! For my Family of 12! (well, they really aren’t my family, but shhhhhh).

    and so on…

  2. Very interesting topic.

  3. So true. It can be easy to quickly take advantage of a deal/mistake/loop hole etc before it disappears only to perhaps think about it later and realize it may or may not have been over “your line”. I think it does get easier though once you’ve been in the hobby longer. For example, I knew immediately that the Hyatt status thing wasn’t interesting to me as we don’t work for Microsoft and have no intention of pretending we do. I also don’t pretend to live in Australia or pretend I have investment accounts where we don’t, etc.

    However, I do know that if an airline site wants to sell a seat to Hawaii for $50 that we will happily sign up. Our timing doesn’t seem to really ever work out for those type of things, but I have had more than enough time to think through that I’m personally fine with jumping on that as it doesn’t require us to pretend to be anything that we aren’t.

  4. The rule I use is: would I be embarrassed to tell someone about this? Could it require me to have to lie to make it happen? (i.e. that I work for Microsoft when I don’t). I find this keeps me ethical and legal.

  5. You might be interested in this article I posted back on September 20, 2013, Kendra:

    It is a very sensitive topic for some people. I suppose it depends on your definition of ethics. For example: is it all right to use a corporate code of a company for which you have performed work but are not officially an employee in order to take advantage of a significant discount?

  6. A publicly traded corporation is compelled by law to do the things that will make its shareholders the most money, except for in ways that are prohibited by law. When dealing with corporations, why not follow the same rule? If it’s not illegal, play them right back at their own game. They would do the same to you.

    Corporations do not have ethics, so why impose your own when dealing with them?

    (Always worth a re-read in this case is Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals. Remember – don’t anthropomorphize corporations – they are not human, they do not exist in the same civil society as we do, and they do not play by the same rules.

  7. Christine says:

    I almost feel like everything has become a “ha, ha, I got a better deal than you did” mentality. I’ve been a member of deltas frequent flyer program almost since its inception mainly because I flew from Atlanta and I was virtually a captive audience. I joined because I might earn a “free” flight or two. Recently, I’ve learned that I haven’t been “earning” as many miles as I could because I don’t play the credit card churn, etc. and, those who advocate doing it, earn bunches of miles if I click on their link. I personally wish we’d go back to the days that everyone was treated as an important customer whether it be airlines, hotels, cell phone companies, cable companies – well, every business. I’m sick to death of the new customer offers – try treating your old customers well and we won’t want to leave your company! The customer is just as guilty because we’ve come to expect a gimmick because they are so frequently offered. Finally, I’ve decided that if I’m content with the price at which the product is being offered from the company that is offering it, then I buy; if not, then I don’t.

  8. I have mixed feelings. I have no problem taking advantage of an intentional a promotion, and many of the “deals” require a lot of time and commitment from the consumer, too. Discounts/deals are a form of advertising and if we are sharing the offers that is getting the “advertiser” new business. I think the business offering the deal has a responsibility to clearly state restrictions, expiration dates, limitations etc. in their offers and we should respect it. But on the other hand, I don’t believe that “everyone’s doing it” a reasonable justification for taking advantage of an obvious mistake. I wouldn’t feel good about buying 12 first class tickets from NY to Hawaii tickets for $100 each. I’m sure people lost jobs over that, if not for the actual mistake, at least indirectly due to company losses.

  9. I’m not sure about some of the situations as I haven’t really seen any mistake fares. I’m not sure what I would do. Don’t the companies usually end up not honoring them?

    But lying about where you work or where you live, or anything, is definitely out of bounds for me.

    However, I am fully comfortable with getting new credit cards, spending what they asked me to spend to get their sign up bonus, and then not using them again. I have done exactly what they asked, nothing was under handed. If they continue to keep my business, and some have, then they are doing something right for me.

    I feel exactly the same way in the grocery stores with their “loss leaders”. I am totally *not* required to buy their other overpriced stuff to make up for my loss leader savings.

    The stores know this, the airlines know this, the bank knows this. They are clearly profiting from sign up bonuses or wouldn’t be offering them.

  10. Points Pixie says:

    I think that it’s also really easy to slide into questionable ethical behavior when it’s happening online. There’s no personal contact. I think some of these things would be more difficult to “justify” if they were happening face-to-face.

  11. Ric Garrido says:

    Using an online website to generate fake credit card numbers has been another widely posted method for getting points and miles bonuses.

  12. I do my very best to stay honest, but it is a challenge. There were a couple of times I’ve done things that didn’t feel completely right afterwards. Not necessarily dishonest, but a bit too close to the line for my comfort level.
    Let’s face it, this whole “signing up for bonuses” hobby is a bit parasitical. 🙂 And it’s easy to get carried away sometimes. I do know that no amount of miles or points is worth sacrificing your integrity for.

  13. If the opportunity is made available, run w/ the miles and points. Do you think the CC companies are wringing their hands and worried that they are taking advantage of cardholders when they charge obscene 20% + interest rates? Are the hotels and airlines searching their souls when they constantly devalue their awards programs and the bonuses offered never increase to match the devaluation? If you get 2, 3, 4, Citi 100K cards, I applaud you!

  14. What did random MS employee do to “earn” Hyatt Platinum status? Most probably NOTHING!

    They were just lucky to be employed by a corporation so heavyweight they could demand special treatment. Now they happen to have hit a jackpot and will most likely use the status for 1 or 2 stays not for MS purposes, but rather their own vacation time and money. This is not the 90’s money no longer flows freely for travel and conferences unless you are in sales or marketing.

    The University I and my spouse work at, offered Marriott Silver through a special landing page, so my wife signed up for it. She does work at the University, but neither of us get any official business travel budget she uses this status for personal purposes. I already had Gold through a Challenge so didn’t need it.

    I say they put it out there and don’t put any barriers up like “after X stays” then sign up for it. A great many people get status for contingencies this way and never use it anyhow.

  15. why should i feel bad taking advantage of an airline or hotel chain, when they continually take advantage of their customers?

  16. JustSaying says:

    Part of the the problem is that the airline/hotel have done their fair share of unethical practices which sour customers from being honest with them…… selling “direct” flights that are in no way direct……..and then creating a hostile environment by doing no notice devaluations as if snickering out the side of their mouth as they do it……….that said……..fraud is fraud and if you are not a company employee then to say you are is fraud…….it’s not rocket science………but to find the cheapest rate in the system and do a mattress run and then turn around and use the suite upgrades and free breakfasts on the most expensive properties in the system then that is “playing the game and winning”………it’s just like a baseball player that uses roods to muscle up……they know they are cheating………..stealing signals from the dugout or from second base….that’s just smart baseball………….

  17. JustSaying says:

    Dear Spell Check:

    Roids is not roods!

  18. interesting topic, heh. I actually *do* work for MSFT and appreciate the offer! I am not a millionaire. In fact there are far fewer millionaires than the good ole days when stock prices were triple digits and split regularly. What did I, as employee, do to deserve this offer? Well for one, I give a lot of me to the company. I work damn hard. I travel a ton for work and do stay at Hyatt’s frequently. I WILL use the benefits for during work travel. I may also use the benefits, or at very least, points, for personal usage. I am not just “lucky” to have this job, I worked hard to get it and keep it. One of the perks of having a high demand high travel job is i get points and mile benefits. And sometimes there specials like the Hyatt deal when our company does large amts of business with other businesses. Trust me this isn’t the only one. Different companies have different benefits. Fact of life.

    BTW, I beg to differ with some of the readers re: corporations. Corporations are made up of humans, and different companies have different values. They are comprised of people, leaders, who have ethics, whether good or bad and set the tone for the company.

  19. How about when a fellow Boarding Area blogger publicly posts an email address for a frequent flier program that is meant to only be available to employees of certain companies? Where was your curiosity then? I know anyone could have posted that email address on flyertalk or anywhere else, but it was one of you people that did. I don’t know if there was a real or karmic cost. I am quite certain that the post in question was meant to generate page views, so there was at least potential for real profit. In your moment of quiet introspection sprinkle some pixie dust on that and tell us what you think.

  20. Does 1+1=2?

  21. Great post. I definitely think this hobby encourages unethical behavior. My own ethical line is lying. I won’t say I work for a company or change my address to a foreign country, etc. I always say I participate in “schemes not scams.” Maybe to some the schemes (buying VR to generate points, etc) are unethical, but if you are just doing what is permissible without lying or cheating, I feel ok on my own moral compass. I do think it is wrong when bloggers post things encouraging people to outright be dishonest, and it definitely makes me think less of them (MMS, I’m talking to you . . . ).

  22. It’s interesting to see what people consider ethical vs unethical. I don’t mind taking advantage of opportunities, but I don’t complain when they don’t work out either.

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