In the news this week is a story about Lynn Harrell, a world-renowned cellist, whose Delta Air Lines SkyMiles account was terminated for a violation of program rules.
For years, Harrell traveled the world and always bought a second seat for his cello under the name of HARRELL/CELLO. The cello even had a SkyMiles account, created by Harrell’s travel agent 15 years ago. And both Harrell and his cello earned and burned miles on Delta until January this year, at which time he received a termination notice.
Harrell posted the letter he received from SkyMiles on his blog, which states:
During a recent review, it has come to our attention that you have continued to earn miles for your cello even after you were advised in 2001 that this was not permitted. Per the terms and conditions of the SkyMiles program, mileage credit is not awarded for tickets purchased for musical instruments. Therefore, SkyMiles account 4XXXXXXXXX has been closed.
On his blog, Harrell says his travel agent never received the original warning in 2001. But he told NBCNews.com that he either just forgot about it or never saw it when his secretary handled the correspondence. Besides that discrepancy, what is simply amazing is that it took Delta until January this year to catch the ongoing violation.
Each airline’s frequent flier program has its own T&Cs, but all do have the right to terminate a member’s account. And while no one really does, members are supposed to read and understand those rules. Here’s Delta’s language:
Delta reserves the right to terminate your membership in the SkyMiles program at any time if you violate the SkyMiles program rules, any term or condition of Delta’s contract of carriage, Delta’s fare rules, or any other Delta rules and regulations that apply to your travel. Termination of your membership will result in a loss of all accumulated mileage credit in your account, the cancellation of any unused Awards, and the loss of all other SkyMiles benefits. Terminated members are not eligible to participate in any aspect of the SkyMiles program, including without limitation any special promotions or SkyMiles partner offers. In lieu of termination, Delta may at its sole discretion deduct mileage from your account but permit you to continue participating in the SkyMiles program.
I agree with Harrell that Delta could have processed this audit in a more timely fashion, but will side with Delta on the termination for the simple fact that they have the right to do so.
Was it the nice thing to do? No. They could have taken the less-harsh approach in their policy and simply terminated the cello account and deducted any mileage used from that account from Harrell. But they went the fully punitive route and terminated both accounts, barring Harrell from participating in SkyMiles in the future.
Harrell’s blog post is thoughtful and worth a read, though he incorrectly states that airlines sell “customer’s miles.” They don’t take miles from people and sell them, as he claims in the comments referencing this article. They simply sell blocks of “new” miles to credit card companies and other partners who then give them to members for completing some type of transaction.
If I were the auditor, I probably would have bestowed the less harsh punishment given the volume of business Harrell (and his cello) seemingly gave Delta over the years. With the media exposure Harrell has received, I’ll be curious to read if Delta reopens his case.
What’s your opinion?