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

By | September 29th, 2011

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.

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