Case dismissed: Airlines “steal” from us — why can’t we steal from them?

You don’t have to be a regular reader of this site to know that airlines are trying wring more ancillary fees from their customers. Or that customers are fighting back.

But do two wrongs make a right?

Consider today’s “case dismissed” file, which comes to us by way of a reader named Michael. I’m not going to publish his last name. You’ll see why in a minute.

He writes,

I just read your posts about guessing voucher numbers.

I’ve been buying Delta vouchers on Craigslist at a discount (which I now know not to do after reading your posts about it, although they’ve always worked).

Let me interrupt Michael right there. Yep, big red flag! They’re almost certainly stolen.

He continues,

When comparing two $100 vouchers (14 digit codes) that I recently purchased, I realized the codes were identical except for the last two digits.

So I played around with the numbers. changing the last few digits, and uncovered a bunch of open $100 Delta vouchers that I’ve used on several flights I’ve already taken, and some for future flights.

Note: there are no names associated with the vouchers. I called Delta and said, “I found a code written on a piece of paper in my desk and not sure if it belongs to me or my roommates … they had no name attached to the voucher.”

Is there anything Delta can do to me at this point since there are no names attached to the vouchers? I’m going to stop doing this immediately, but nervous about potential ramifications for my actions.

Michael made the right call. He was basically stealing from Delta, and maybe from the unfortunate passenger who gets the voucher after a flight delay and then tries to redeem it.

If you didn’t earn the voucher, you shouldn’t use it.

Can Delta track his questionable certificate redemption? I’m sure it’s possible. Airlines have poured tens of millions of dollars into systems designed to protect their revenues. Delta could come after Michael for his activity, but it’s unlikely it will unless he’s a serial offender and used a frequent flier account when he made his redemption. (You didn’t do that, did you, Michael?)

As to whether he or anyone else should use a voucher like this, that’s an interesting question. I know there are many air travelers who feel Delta and another airlines would not hesitate to engage in similar behavior if it could make them money — even if they were being deceptive. (For the record, what airlines do when they price their tickets may be unethical — displaying a low fare and then piling on “gotcha” fees and taxes only after a customer makes a purchasing decision — but it’s not illegal, at least not for now.)

Why not return the favor?

The answer is simple: Because you aren’t an airline. You’re better than that.

I see websites and blogs dedicated to manipulating the system, and it troubles me. I don’t think we have to resort to airline-like behavior in order to win this conflict. Wouldn’t it be better to fight for a level, competitive playing field for airlines instead of the oligopoly we now have, and to then reward the best airline with our business?

Yes, it would.

But in the meantime, we’re stuck with airlines trying to pull a fast one with their poorly-disclosed but highly profitable fees — and us retaliating by stealing vouchers.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Jeremy

    What “Michael” is doing constitutes criminal fraud.  What the airlines are doing in terms of charging extra fees is by no means criminal.  Sure, all the fees are frustrating, but they are fully justified in doing business as they see fit under the law.  So I don’t think it’s fair to say that redeeming fraudulent vouchers is acting like an airline.  Airlines aren’t in the business of fraud; they might not be the paragon of good virtue either, but your comparison is flawed. 

  • $16635417

    I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind Chris stating that how airlines price their tickets being unethical? They are generally based on how competetive a city pair is, as well as supply and demand.

  • Crissy

    I think the fact that he was buying them on Craig’s List should have been a red flag to him like it was to most people reading your blog.  But once he knew there was something funny going continuing to do so would be a fraud with a likely victim, someone was issued that voucher.

  • Tony A.

    Michael could very well be stealing another passenger’s certificate already issued by Delta.
    So he is victimizing another PERSON not Delta. This is idiotic and criminal.

  • sirwired

    What he did was simple theft.  Period.  No excuses.  The airlines collectively may engage in misleading advertising, but they don’t simply pull money out of your account for absolutely no reason.  (At least, not on purpose.  Of course individual employees may steal, but there are bad apples in every bunch.)

    Also, consider the ramifications for the people that were actually issued those vouchers!  How many hours are they going to have to spend on the phone to MAYBE convince Delta that the numbers were fraudulently used?  Delta is of course going to immediately be suspicious and think that the actual voucher owner sold the vouchers and is now trying to redeem them too.

  • Tony A.

    This fraudster can also be very stupid. His name will be in Delta’s PNR together with his Secure Flight Personal Data, Credit Card Data (including Billing Address), and (if traveling overseas) Passport Data. What a stupid way to be blacklisted or be accused of fraud.

  • Susan N

    Two things here:

    There is a big difference between illegal/unethical behavior like this compared to other ‘wrong’ behavior like hidden city ticketing – which you typically can get away with if you don’t use your FF number. With this, I’m surprised that Delta hasn’t gotten him already.

    Airlines have actually gotten pretty good about disclosing fees now, whether by law, customer pressure, or their choice. Any website WILL either say “plus taxes and fees” and most major airlines (not southwest, spirit, third party sites and a few others) do display the full price right away. So I don’t really think that this is even unethical.

  • Phil from London

    Yes of course you can steal like this
    .People do this in London with claiming false refunds for late underground trains and passing coupons multiple times  into self service machines at supermarkets.
    However it is only a matter of time before they get caught since if you do it enough times to make it worthwhile someone else will notice  and then it is criminal record time.

  • John Baker

    “Michael” I would suggest that you find a good criminal attorney now. You can take your pick on what they will charge you for (theft, fraud, identity theft, interstate wire fraud) but it all leads to one place. Consider this since you used more than one voucher that wasn’t rightfully yours and attached it to flight reservations with your name/info on them, Delta corporate security isn’t going to have to try very hard to track you down when this comes to light and you won’t have the excuse that it happened on accident.
    It might be worth contacting an attorney now and turning yourself in. You might get off with a simple misdemeanor and restitution. Expensive but better than serious jail time for the felonies you committed.    

  • Chris in NC

    and why wouldn’t Delta go after “Michael.” Since he has used these certificates on “several flights I’ve already taken, and some for future flights” he is a serial offender.

    Even if he doesn’t have a FF number, Delta certainly has his secure flight data, and an audit will easily reveal the pattern of activity.

    Of course, this is if I even believe “Michael’s” story. Is this verified? or simply based on what someone has told you?

    I find it incredibly hard to believe that Delta would issue vouchers in near sequence only modifying the last 2 numbers. If that is what Delta is doing, then it is a major security breach. Likewise, I can’t believe someone would be so stupid as to engage in this type of illegal behavior.

  • Tom

    Thievery. And stupid, too. To save a few hundred bucks, he’s created a permanent paper trail of felonies. Now that you’ve mentioned this type of fraud in your blog, I’m sure somebody at Delta will write a script looking for multiple voucher users. I wouldn’t want to be this guy the next time he tries to board a plane.

  • Jeremy P

    I think the only hope for Michael at this point is that it wasn’t actually Delta, but some other airline, and he changed the airline name.  But if it really is Delta, and if for goodness sake if his firstname really is Michael – then yes, turning himself in now might be a good idea.  I would guess that someone in Delta’s media department monitors this blog, the only question is whether they decide to send it over to security or not.

  • emanon256

    I had $75 United certificate once that when I tried to use, it said it had already been used.  I spent a lot of time with mileage plus trying to figure out what happened. They could not tell me any information about how it was used, other than the fact that it was used. I had not given it to anyone.  I argued for a while, but they said they are not revocable, and they could not do anything.  I finally gave up.  I still wonder what happened to that one.  I fly a lot, so I get a few certificates a year, typically when I get stranded overnight somewhere.  It’s still disappointing; I am guessing this is what happened, someone guessed the number.  So I agree with everyone who said that Michael isn’t stealing form the airline, he is stealing from another consumer.

  • SK

    MICHAEL IS NOT STEALING FROM AIRLINE, HE’S STEALING FROM A PERSON WHO RECEIVED THAT VOUCHER FROM THE AIRLINE. Airline will only accept one voucher code and the sucker is the guy who actually has the voucher, not the airline.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I’m disappointed in the 13 people (as of this moment) who voted “yes”.

  • cjr001

    It’s disappointing, but not really surprising.

    The airlines have made the experience of flying miserable in just about every way possible. So it’s easy for some to feel justified if they can find a way to get back at them.

  • LadySiren

    Totally agree. It’s a d-bag move that doesn’t hurt the airline but instead, a fellow would-be traveler. How selfish can you get? Michael’s mom must be so proud she raised a self-centered thief.

  • Tony A.

    Using this logic then frequent flyers may be excusable serial fraudsters.
    I wonder how many times Michael flies a year to feel he is justified to steal. I suppose the majority of people who fly (on crappy airlines) are honest citizens.

  • MikeZ

    Honestly, what he did may be unethical, but I’m not sure illegal. The airlines issue coupons or vouchers to people and he is using them. There are no laws that I know of that don’t allow people to sell gift certificates or transfer them. The only way he could be in trouble is if another customer accused him of stealing their certificate. Screw the airline for coming up with such a simple and dumb system.

  • S363

    Remember, two wrongs don’t make a right.  But three do.

  • SoBeSparky

    This column is making less and less sense.  First, the TSA is the enemy, not terrorists determined to undermine our way of life.  Second, the airlines are stealing from us by making pricing fairer for all–you want more services, then you pay them. 

  • Tony A.

    Really? Someone went to jail for selling fake airline vouchers!

  • Douglas Muth

    Software Engineer here.

    Don’t think that when we build voucher redemption systems (or any system that performs e-commerce functions, for that matter) that we don’t also build in logging systems to audit every attempt to redeem a voucher, successful or not, along with the date, time, and IP address of that user’s computer.

    Michael and other folks who guess at voucher numbers are playing a dangerous game.  It’s just a SQL query away to see which IP addresses have the highest number of failed redemption attempts in a specified time range.  From there, a few more queries can turn up successful redemptions from that IP address, what flights they were used on, who used them, etc.  It’s *trivial* to connect the dots when you have that many pieces of data. And it can all be used against you in a fraud prosecution.

    If you want to steal from an airline and not get caught, you’d have better chances of making off with paper towels from the restroom.  There’s no electronic audit trail there.

  • sirwired

    Using the numbers from vouchers he was not issued unambiguously qualifies as fraud.  This isn’t even some kind of subtle grey area.

  • tsrblke

    This is precisely the problem with the current trend in this country of “Us vs. Them.”  It sets up a stupid idea that we all need to get what’s coming to “us” from the “them” that are out to hurt “us.” It’s crap.
    Do Airlines walk on the edge of the law, eh, possibly it’s legal mumbo jumbo.  Are the fees frustrating, yes, but also is so very much of life.  Is there such a thing as a “victimless crime” no.
    Even if these vouchers were never actually handed out, just generated to be handed out at some point, (and now would be pulled) Delta is still a victim in this.  A sympathetic victim, no, but a victim nevertheless.  We’re a country of LAWS, and if Micheal thinks Delta has wronged him, he has a duty to take it up in the court of laws, not act in a vigillente fashion (which this effectively is).
    Follow this down the chain of course and enough fraud means that the airlines will have to up ticket costs.  So stop acting like entitled babies.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Two wrongs don’t make a right.  Just because the corporations have the morals and ethics of an alley cat doesn’t mean I should do the same.  It’s this mentality that is the downfall of a polite society and one which the current presidential administration is working so hard to convince the rest of us is right.

    A lack of ethics on the part of one person doesn’t mean you should respond in kind.  When they are caught, they get their hand slapped.  When we are caught, we go to prison.

  • Michael K

    It’s definitely stealing and it’s inexcusable.  That said, I think Delta should recognize that there will always be dishonest people in the world and they should do a better protect of protecting their legitimate voucher owning customers –for example by making the certificate numbers much harder to guess.  

    A 12 digit alphanumeric code would have nearly 5 quintillion possible values.  If the legitimate codes are properly distributed pseudo-randomly among that many values, then you can assign a code for every human being on Earth and the odds of guessing a valid code would be less than 2 in a billion.

  • Guest

    *Selling* thousands of vouchers is what got Victoria a trip to prison. The people to whom she sold them were mentioned in the linked article as *victims*.

    Now that Michael understands what he was really doing, he’s stopped. I doubt the airline will go after him unless they take a RIAA mindset (going after people who copy $.99 songs, trying to get million dollar fines against them)

  • Bodega

    Those vouchers are accountable documents.  A travel agency can received a debit memo years after a ticket issue as the airlines do audit.  Regarding the transposing of digits, if someone writes to them that their voucher wasn’t accepted, Delta could very well take that number, do a search, check that name against other uses, see if that person actually was given those numbers to use and then go after the passenger. 

  • Andrew from NYC

    As far as I understand from that article, she wasn’t selling real vouchers.  Quote: “When passengers tried to redeem the vouchers, Scardigno used some of the proceeds to buy air tickets for them, thereby perpetuating the pyramid scheme.”  If those vouchers really worked, she wouldn’t have to “use some of the proceeds”.

    Besides, even if she was selling real vouchers, there’s a difference.  She was selling “things” — pieces of paper with airline logo and stuff — which she did not own.  Michael was just guessing numbers — kind of like playing in a casino or diving for lost gold.  I don’t see what the big deal is.

    As for “legal” vs. “illegal” — these notions have less and less meaning when large corporations can change the law as they please.  Heard about recent Supreme Court decision curtailing Class Action Suits?

  • Sis

    I thought we were to keep politics out of this.  I totally reject your premise!

  • Andrew from NYC

    Let me stop you at the IP address.  If I were to try and guess a voucher number, I would use a public computer.  Once I get a number that works, I would redeem it at my home computer… since I’ll have to give up my name at this point anyway.

  • David

    So true.  He’s not victimizing Delta, he’s stealing from other passengers.  They go to redeem their vouchers and, voila, they’ve been stolen and used.  It’s like finding an AMEX gift card.  You know it doesn’t belong to you — so don’t use it.  The rightful owner may contact AMEX and get it reissued (assuming some thief hasn’t rushed out and emptied the balance before you noticed it was missing.)

  • Sasha

    I agree with Jeremy, but let us all remember that airlines have a staff of lawyers and we do not.  I sometimes wonder how people like Michael sleep.

  • harold

    This is not a difficult problem to handle:

    1. Stealing is stealing

    2. Two wrongs do not make a right.

    3. Never use Delta again.

    4. Tell everyone you know.

  • Arpan


  • Sue

    I have been a travel agent for over 43 years and I once had a customer ask me to issue him a full fare ticket to Florida over spring break.  His intention was to never use the ticket but to go to the airport on Good Friday (when everyone is traveling) figuring that the flight would be overbooked then he would volunteer to get bumped and get the free flight voucher. Then he would return the ticket for a refund. I never sold him the ticket (this was back many years ago when people actually used us).  He was kind of stupid to tell me what he was doing and he also told me how he reported to the airline that they lost his luggage….which they didn’t, and collected on it.  Some people are always trying to play the system!!!

  • Susan N

    But is ‘Michael’ really that smart? I sort of doubt it considering that he actually called them to use the vouchers.

  • Mark K

    “I don’t see what the big deal is.”

    Really?  He was guessing the numbers of vouchers that were issued to customers of the airline.  When they try and use those numbers which are rightfully theirs to use, they will be told that the voucher has already been used.  The rightful owners of those certificates are now denied access to those funds.  If you were the holder of the actual certificate and someone guessed your number and used it would that really be no big deal to you? 

    Stealing the value of the vouchers is both illegal and immoral.

  • Mark K

    “we’re stuck with airlines trying to pull a fast one with their poorly-disclosed but highly profitable fees — and us retaliating by stealing vouchers.”

    Really Chris?  Do you actually believe civilization has devolved that much that stealing is acceptable?  And do you really believe that we are battling with the airlines over a few dollars?

    First of all, guessing at a voucher number until you find one that works and using it to pay for a ticket is theft.  No different than printing $100 bills on your ink jet and using them to pay for a ticket.  The payment may appear correct and proper, but is not.  No one except for the person a voucher is issued to is entitled to use it.  If that person legitimately gives or sells the voucher to another person, that is different but is not what is being discussed here.

    Second, no one likes fees, but they are part of the airline experience these days.  If you don’t want to pay the fee then find a legal way to not pay it — don’t check bags, don’t eat the food on the plane, don’t request the extra legroom seats, don’t change your plans after booking the flight. 

    Stealing from the airline can get you in severe trouble.  Is a couple hundred dollars in savings worth the possibility of jail time and a felony record?


  • emanon256

    Unless you find a few valid vouchers, figure out a piece of their algorithm, and use that to come up with new voucher numbers that have a much high percentage of being right.  Not 2 in a billion, but more like 1 in 1,000.  Then generate ten thousand of them, and write a script to test this on Deltas website and flag the ones that are not rejected.  Now you have a list of ~10 valid vouchers.  You don’t even need to try to figure out the algorithm, just try random numbers or even sequential numbers begging with one you know is valid, run your script for a few hours, and come back.  You could have many valid vouchers after that. A script can do thousands of these a minute, so it really doesn’t matter if it’s 1 in 2 billion, if someone really wants to do this they can.  That is where ethics and civility come into play and people should not be doing this.  I even feel that this would fall under hacking laws and if someone is randomly trying certificate numbers be it manually or by a script, they are in fact hacking Delta and should be criminally prosecuted as such.

  • Mark K

    Three lefts make a right.

  • S E Tammela

    The most disappointing thing about this whole article is that Chris has now given people information on how to join in the scumbag behaviour.

  • emanon256

    That’s horrible! And it reminds me of a story I read about a guy who bought multiple refundable international first class tickets for next year so he could write them off as business expenses and not pay taxes on the additional income. After filing his taxes, he refunded the tickets thinking he just saved himself a ton of money on taxes.  Fortunately (For us as tax payers) the IRS caught this (You can’t write of an airline ticket until after you begin your trip) and audited him. 

  • Andrew from NYC

    True.  But that only means that customers shouldn’t accept the airline’s funny money.  Ask for real money, or at least a mileage credit.  Otherwise…  What if dollar bills didn’t have any protection against counterfeiting?  Would anyone want them, even though counterfeiting is clearly illegal?  In case of vouchers, illegality is arguable.  Possible, but arguable.

    By the way, if we believe Michael, he wasn’t using other people’s numbers: he called and checked.

    As for immoral — that’s subjective.  I don’t think so.

  • Andrew from NYC

    How on Earth would you return a ticket after the flight has already left?  The lost luggage trick is also not very believable, with all the security cameras around the airport.

    Looking to be bumped is a valid strategy, often touted on travel blogs like this one.  If you are flexible, you can count on various freebies.  Is that “playing the system”?  Anyway, a good system is one that can’t be played!

  • Richard JJ

    It isn’t really that hard to figure out though – just google it and I guarantee that this and many other things will come up.

  • $16635417

    “Do two wrongs make a right?” I see Michael making a wrong, how was he wronged to retaliate in this way?

  • $16635417

    True, you can google to find out “how” to do it, but getting the idea in the first place is a different matter.

  • NG

    It’s because Chris doesn’t understand basic economics and believes that it’s “unethical” for airlines to charge for something unless it costs them something.  The fact that the price of a good or service is set by supply and demand is a concept that has totally escaped him. 

  • SallyLu

    I always think that if people put as much thought and energy into starting a legitimate busines as they do into coming up with ways to defraud, they could make much more money, legally!

  • Christopher Elliott

    You mean, it’s OK to conceal the true cost of an airline ticket and then broadside your passenger with hidden fees? That’s not basic economics, it’s basic business ethics.

  • jennj99738

    How exactly is Delta in the wrong here?  I don’t see anything in the column to say that “Michael” had a problem with Delta, I just see him as stealing vouchers from other customers who earned them. So “Michael” should tell people Delta was wrong in not allowing him to use fraudulently obtained “vouchers?”

  • Michael K

    A captcha is all you would need to address scripts that guess repeatedly.

  • Mark K

    If the ticket is refundable, you can get a refund at any time as long as you did not check in for the flight. 
    This is different than the non refundable tickets most of us see these days that state “no value after departure” meaning you have to rebook before the original flight leaves or you get nothing.

  • Linda Bator

    Irregardless of what shenanigans the airlines pull with ancillary fees, THIS was outright theft!  Shame on him – I would be pretty ticked off if I went to use the voucher I HAD EARNED and he had already cashed in on a “guess” that which did not belong to him!

  • Linda Bator

    So you don’t see a problem with the REAL CUSTOMER getting screwed over?  Because he happened to guess the right number, and it wasn’t EVER his?  You’re just as deplorable!

  • Linda Bator

    He called and checked that the NUMBERS he came up with were valid – which means they WERE issued and not echanged for a ticket by the holder yet.  So he DID screw someone over — and your morality is as deplorable as his if you can justify theft for ANY REASON!

  • Linda Bator

    Actually, the first 3 numbers are always the airline’s code and cannot change.  The other numbers tell them where the voucher came from (airport, city ticket office, etc), with only a few numbers he can play with.  But they WILL track him down eventually, and when they do, hope he enjoys the cell!

  • y_p_w

    I haven’t hard anything quite like that (losing all value of a ticket if not used).  I thought that for the most part if one misses a flight that the airline will likely place the passenger on the next available flight on a standby basis.

    That’s actually what happened with the infamous meltdown at Hong Kong International Airport.  The woman ended up on the next flight out.

  • Andrew from NYC

    Well, it says that “there are no names associated with the vouchers”.  I assumed that meant that the vouchers weren’t given to anyone.

    I do not justify theft.  I am sick of companies defining “theft” the way that benefits them.  Downloading = theft?  Getting duped into buying a $1000 champagne in a club and refusing to pay = theft?  Returning an item to the store after you used it and did not like it = theft?

  • Tony A.

    Good comment! Yeah, exactly what did Delta do to Michael that he felt so entitled to cheat Delta or some innocent Delta voucher holder?

  • y_p_w

    I’ll admit that I once bought a ticket to a football game from a scalper.  I asked ticket services if there was something wrong with it (seats listed didn’t seem to exist), was told it was a “bad ticket”, had the ticket confiscated, and was escorted out of the stadium. I was thinking perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut, walked around and watched from the concourse.  I would have spent money at the concessions, but in the end I didn’t have that opportunity.  I suspect that someone inside the organization was selling blank ticket stock that people used to produce real looking tickets. It fooled the ticket takers and ushers.  It sort of feels different justifying it when you’ve paid money.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t have displaced anyone (i.e. use up someone’s credits).

    Now, I’m not sure why they make the voucher codes so easy to figure out. I’ve used “rewards points” for buying merchandise, and the codes are alphanumerical with the vast majority of codes unused.

  • Bodega

    It depends on the rules of the fare.  Some fares state that the value of the fare will be forfeited if you don’t cancel prior to departure time.  Now if you show up late, they often will put you on another flight if possible, but if you just don’t show up and don’t call, they can not allow you to reuse the ticket even with a change fee.

    Fully refundable tickets can be refunded well after a flight has departed.  There is no restriction to when you have to request the refund, but the sooner the better.

  • jennj99738

    You have an, uh, interesting viewpoint on this issue.  There are lots of kinds of theft.  There is theft of services, utterance, fraud, conversion, false pretenses, etc and possession of stolen property (which does not require that the person in possession have knowledge the goods were stolen).  I think most people would think buying an item with the intent of returning it after use would be theft. 

    No matter what the business says, the business isn’t the entity bringing the criminal charge–the State does so it makes no difference what the business calls it.  The police and the prosecutor make the decision whether to charge the alleged thief and what to charge.

    Reading the rest of your posts, I still can’t figure out how you think this is OK.  The voucher numbers have either been issued to an innocent party and then fraudulent vouchers using that number were created and sold to a third party or the stock numbers were guessed and the money comes directly from Delta.  Either way, someone isn’t getting paid for a flight that the possessor of the fraudulent voucher is taking.  What would you call this?  It isn’t questionable that this is illegal–it is illegal. 

  • Eric

    Or lack thereof.

  • Tony A.

    Probable next complaint to Elliott – Help I cannot use my fake Delta Voucher!
    Watch this 13SEP11 video from CBS News Atlanta:
    [QUOTE]”We were stopped at the boarding gate and the attendant told us we were
    no longer able to go to Vegas,” Morris said. “The gate agent also told
    us that there were 50 other people sold fake tickets the same way.”[/QUOTE]
    Michael are you listening?

  • Sershev

    Several years ago I saw a lot of Northwest vouchers or
    discount codes on e-bay. I didn’t think there would be any harm, since Wordperks
    credit card was sending discount codes to cardholders every year. I thought
    maybe there are people who received discount codes don’t need to travel any
    time soon and trying to get at least something. So, I paid $20 for one of the
    $100 off of NWA published fare. I received e-mail with the code promptly, used
    the code, it worked, it reduced priced by $100, my credit card was charged for
    the remaining amount, I received e-mail confirmation with ticket numbers. It
    seemed like I saved $80 on a ticket. About a week or two later I received an
    e-mail from NWA to contact them and to pay back $100 within 24 hours or my
    reservation will be cancelled without any refund. The e-mail stated that the
    voucher was attached to someone else’s WorldPerk account and we both (NWA and I)
    are victims of the fraud. Also my WorldPerks account was suspended. I called
    Northwest but they were firm with the decision of me paying $100. I had no choice.
    After I paid the amount of the voucher my reservation and WorldPerks account
    were reinstated. Credit card reversed $20 charge.

  • Sershev

    I thought with Delta you need to provide certificate number and the name to whom the certificate was issued in order to use it. How can you guess both?

  • Richard JJ

    Good point. I’m actually sort of scared now when I think that a lot of people on this site probably have the mindset of ‘the airlines are our enemy so whatever I do to get back is rational’. 

  • Dfjkh

    I voted “yes” but with an eye towards risk.  If I could do it with no risk, then sure.  If I know that there is a certain chance that I would not be able to board, I wouldn’t.  Sorry, it’s not about fairness – that’s not how airlines see things, and that’s not how I will, either.

  • Cyn

    The way I see it, you’re willing to be a thief if you don’t think you’ll be caught.  Isn’t that what most criminals think?

  • Andrew from NYC

    “There are lots of kinds of theft”.  Nope.  There are lots of kinds of CRIME.  For example, according to copyright laws, copying a DVD is a crime.  The problem is that the public in general does not recognize this act as a crime.  People usually KNOW it’s a crime; however, they do not FEEL it’s one.  On the other hand, we all FEEL that THEFT — taking something that doesn’t belong to you with the intent to keep or sell it — is a crime.

    Prosecuting DVD copiers doesn’t do much good: it’s hard to catch them, there are all sorts of “fair use” excuses, lawyers cost money, the public is not very sympathetic…  In this situation, the business starts a P.R. campaign, redefining the crime.  TV and newspaper ads tell us: copying a DVD is THEFT!  is THEFT!!  THEFT!!!  In the USA, this strategy was successful: most of the people here will agree and even explain WHY copying is theft.

    That’s what I mean by businesses defining “theft”.  It DOES make a difference what the business calls it — not because of prosecuting actual criminals, but because you have to prosecute a lot less if the public has been brainwashed in your favor.  That, and the fact that the law is often written to benefit corporations…

    All right.  Now why I don’t think voucher guessing is immoral.  When you go to a casino, you sometimes hit a jackpot (duh :-)).  As a result, you go back with the money you didn’t earn.  It’s the money taken from other people, some of them sick and not able to stop gambling.  Is that immoral?

    Another example.  Airfares fluctuate a lot.  You may have paid 10% of the price the guy in the next seat paid.  Does it cost this much less to carry you than him?  Do you DESERVE a price break?  No; you were just lucky.  Is that immoral?

    That’s what Michael is supposedly doing — guessing numbers in order to get a cheaper airfare.  Delta IS getting paid for the seat, albeit $100 less; how is that different from the example above?

  • Rpbakeriii2001

    Guessing a voucher number and then using it is fraud.  You are not taking from the airlines.  Vouchers are not valid until issued, and they are issued to passengers for various reasons.  Sometimes they are issued “generically”, without a specific name to just issue them faster, but either way, they belong to someone and you took THIER money, not the airlines.  You have not “stuck it to the airline”, you have stolen a fellow passengers money.

  • Rpbakeriii2001

    Yes, airlines have fees — many of those fees are gov’t imposed also.  But airlines do not “pile on taxes”.  Airlines only collect taxes, taxes are charged by the U.S. and other governments — they just make airlines the bad guy by forcing them to collect.  Upto 35% of an airline ticket is due to gov’t imposed taxes and fees.

  • Rpbakeriii2001

    And when the real owner trys to use their certificate and they are advised it was used, they do file criminal charges against the person who fraudulently used it. 

  • TMMao

    What if we could guess credit card numbers and then use them to run up charges?  That’s obviously a case of theft.  How is guessing voucher numbers any different?

  • jennj99738

    Andrew, I’m not going to debate the origin of the various theft statutes from the common law with you.   Now I understand why you think this isn’t a big deal, because it’s not much money.  The problem is that you believe you’re in the majority–that making up voucher numbers and taking money, i.e., revenue, that does not belong to you.  I hope not.  The poll results show you’re probably wrong.  

    Your example about fare fluctuations is absurd.  The airlines build the fares;  the vouchers are credits that are given to passengers, not taken by passengers.  It’s your moral (and legal) compass that’s off, not the vast majority of the other posters here.

  • Carver


    Your post reminds me of why I stopped representing criminal defendants.  They often had very “unique” points of view that justified their criminal behavior.  It was difficult to sit in the my office with a straight face while listening to some of the most inane excuses.

    Incidentally, the analagies you presented, would have given my clients a run for their money for most creative excuse for criminal behavior.

    And ona side note, there are many types of theft, often called larceny.  Some of the delineating factors include whether the theft by force (Robbery), by misrepresentation (Fraud), the value (Grand v. Petty), etc.

  • Carver

    Its really splitting hairs as to whom Michael is stealing from.  If the voucher is unissued but active, then it belongs to the Delta and he stole from Delta.  If the voucher has been issued, then you could argue either way.  In any event, Michael’s behavior constitutes fraud, both civilly and criminally.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Back tracking a bit here…

    I’m appalled at what Michael is/was doing. He’s not stealing from the airlines, but from customers. I’ve been on the receiving end of airline funny money numerous times and one time I was unable to use it because apparently it had already been used.

    I hope Michael wasn’t the one who stole the voucher number from me…


  • PauletteB

    Michael is a criminal, pure and simple. People like him cost everyone else.

  • andrelot

    Being a relatively new arena, online transactions still lack some “generally accepted moral passive guidelines” most people have for brick and mortar ones.

    For instance, if someone were to try printing different coupons’ codes and take them to Home Depot to see if the cashier allows you to redeem that, most people would agree the person’d b cheating. But as online transactions don’t have this physical aspect of requiring someone – for instance – to print several fake tickets and handle them until one is accepted, it becomes easier to not see such action as cheating.

    I’m not going on the defense of airline hideous ticketing prices, like concealed fees not revealed until late on the purchase process (or after).