Is It Illegal To Buy Airline Or Hotel Status?

Reader rehana asked the following question in the Ask Lucky forum:

I have seen quite a few offers allowing you to purchase a higher status in many hotel chains? How is this done and is it legal? I have seen a lot of hhnors in particular. Has anyone has any experience with this?

It’s not uncommon to see airline or hotel status for sale on Ebay, Craigslist, etc. For example, at the moment there’s even more opportunities than usual to purchase Hilton Diamond status on Ebay, mostly for under $100.

Hilton-Diamond-Status-Ebay

To start, I should say that buying airline or hotel status isn’t illegal. However, much like selling miles, it violates the terms & conditions of just about any loyalty program.

How is it that some people are able to sell airline and hotel status? I’d say these status opportunities fall into two general categories:

  • status which is earned within the program terms but sold in violation of the program terms
  • status which is earned and sold in violation of the program terms

Selling legitimately earned status

Let’s talk about the first category. For example, Delta Diamond members can nominate someone to Gold Medallion status. Through the American Airlines Business Extra program, points can be redeemed for an AAdvantage Gold status nomination. IHG Spire Elite members can nominate someone else to IHG Platinum status.

American-Business-Extra

On top of all that, there are plenty of corporate travel departments which get status nominations as part of a contract, so in theory it’s possible that people are selling those.

While these benefits are earned within the rules, once the member sells those perks, they’re violating the rules. I’m guessing that represents a minority of these types of “sales,” though.

Selling illegitimately earned status

This is probably the more common category of status available for purchase. For example, you’ll see tons of opportunities to purchase Hilton Diamond status on Ebay right now, like this one. Here’s how it’s described:

Hilton Diamond Status 03/2018
This will be processed and may take up to 7-10 business days to be completed.

In order to upgrade your card to diamond status, you need to provide me with first name and last name, email address with HHonors, and account number .After successful upgraded, your account will be diamond. Unlike other sellers on ebay, there is no need to merge two accounts.

To obtain the actual membership card, please log in to your account, click on “edit your profile” to request for the actual card and reset your username, password,etc.The membership card will be shipped to you directly from Hilton.Buyer assumes all responsibility for this listing.

I suspect what’s going on here is that the person selling these status matches is faking status credentials and then submitting them for status matches. It’s easy enough to modify the text in a web browser to change what a webpage says, so once they have the name of the person who is buying the status, they simply create a screenshot which shows them as having status with a competitor. They submit a status match, and voila.

The terms are the same as the status match offer as well — status is valid through March 2018, and it can take up to 10 days for the status match to be processed.

Bottom line

While there are plenty of people out there selling airline and hotel status, it’s never legitimate. Even if a status nomination was legitimately earned, reselling it isn’t permitted. But for most it’s even worse than that, as the status isn’t even legitimately earned.

Comments

  1. @Lucky In your opinion, what are the chances that you can get away with status matching and what are the repercussions if they do find out you bought your status?

  2. It is illegal because by buying/selling status you are breaking the terms and conditions, a legally binding contract. It’s not criminal, but you are breaking the private law that is established between yourself and the program when you sign up. Of course the program will likely do nothing more than terminate your membership, but they could also permanently ban you from visiting them, or whatever else the contract allows for.

  3. it’s a status. Like receiving a medal for something. I’m proud to be on the highest level on an airline and on a hotel membership. I envy of another who had high status at another airline or hotel. Traveling this much is hard and I enjoy the “respect” I get from the businesses. (I wish I could change the “respect” font size to point five)
    Would I pay $100 for a diamond status? Of course if it was allowed. I would also pay $100 for an Olympic gold if I could.

  4. The benefits of status are worth more than the respect in my view. I’ve been stuck in AA PLT for years and have never reached EXP but next year with the new revenue based reward system I will finally reach the promise land and earn the four SWUs I’d love to use. And I agree about diamond status!

  5. Remember when US Airways used to outright sell Chairman’s Preferred top tier status to anyone? Start from zero, it was once $10,000 I think. During the Great Recession, all you needed was 1 EQM, and you could buy the training remaining 99,999 for $3500. Or something very similar.

  6. Wow, unbelievable that people are profiting off of this, most likely doing it illegally by fake status matches. A search for just the diamond status revealed 10 auctions, I reported every one of them. There were at least 20-30 of them sold already.

  7. There’s a third scenario that you missed. I worked for a company that had a loose partnership with Marriott. As a result some of our properties earned points. In addition, we were able to buy status from Marriott for customers (and it was very reasonably priced). We could only do this a limited number of times a year but it was not that restrictive. I’m sure other companies have this type of agreement with Marriott; I know we didn’t explicitly ask for it and it seemed part of the overall points agreement. I’m sure some of the statuses for sale are from other companies that have this type of agreement.

  8. I can’t believe someone would go through the trouble of reporting all of those on eBay. It must be fun to be a pawn for corporate America…

  9. I have sold SAS EuroBonus Gold status three times. As a Diamond member with SAS I can give away one card every 12 months. I have sold them for 5000 NOK each (= ~615 USD each), so in total around 1900 USD profit for me.

    I do not understand why someone would want to pay that much for it. Only when you travel enough to qualify, should status be worth that much to you. Not that I complain, of course.

  10. What’s really funny is everyone bitching about how it’s “illegal” and are reporting these guys on ebay are most probably for open borders and think it’s “racist” to make people immigrate to the US legally (given the usual SJW tone of the comments).

  11. @Keith: I’ve been with a number of large consumer brands and we’ve always had someone whose job included keeping an eye on eBay for illicit merch, be it trademark infringements, counterfeits, or other stuff.

    It’s not hard to do, actually. You set up some saved searches and there’s only work to be done when you get an alert.

  12. @Keith: how about protecting innocent people who pay money for these scams? What if one was your own mother? Apparently you only care about yourself. It took all of two minutes to click “report” link on each auction.

  13. @JeffISU

    Yeah you’re a regular superhero saving people from circumventing 1000s of dollars to get status at a lousy hotel chain.

    Next you’ll be swooping in to save everyone from points hacking too.

  14. How about all these bloggers allegedly using miles and traveling on multiple airlines with all these miles?
    I do not believe any of it?
    Either the airlines give them the free tickets and they all lie about it on their blogs. Or they buy the miles from their clients for cheap and then use it for travel. It is impossible for a blogger to travel and pay for tickets and find all this mileage space on all these airlines and keep traveling.
    I do not believe any of it.
    I do not see anything wrong with people paying for status match or buying someone’s miles, because all role models here, the bloggers all do it.
    And we have real vigilantes here on here. Wow! Have nothing better to do?
    First, audit all these bloggers because they all lie about their miles and how they get to travel First Class on so many airlines. How would you earn all those millions of miles?
    I have traveled myself extensively and I have done the math and it is simply impossible unless they were millionaires and had shit loads of free time on their hands and had 25 lifetimes to live their lives to earn all those miles just to travel Lufthansa First Class 4 time in one year and then multiple other airlines! Or fly Etihad in First Class several times. Impossible! Ask your bloggers to be upfront and honest about how they travel and use miles.

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