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Frank Abignale Jr made his way around the world forging Pan-Am checks and impersonating pilots, but a travel agent managed to rake in 42 million Delta Skymiles without moving an inch. There’s just one problem: authorities allege that he did so fraudulently. Here’s the incredible story of Gennady Podolski, the man who took advantage of a great way you should be earning miles, but did it in a way which took things perhaps too far…

We all know that you can earn frequent flyer miles whenever you fly, and that you should have a loyalty program for each airline alliance. Doing so allows you to earn miles into one pot when flying with all the airline partners. In the case of Delta, having just one Skymiles account would allow you to earn Delta miles while flying on Air France, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, Aeromexico and many more. So far, so good…

Delta One A330 SeatBut what many people don’t realize is that if you own a business, you can also earn an entirely separate lot of miles, as a corporate incentive to stick with an airline when you, or your employees travel. They still get their personal miles, but you get something for buying the ticket. It’s something we’ve advocated doing for years, since you can effectively earn upgrades, free flights and other perks twice as fast. There’s just one little catch: you need an actual business and the programs are only designed for employees of your business, not everyone you know.

Authorities allege that Gennady Podolski, who ironically is a fairly well known travel advisor, set up a Delta SkyBonus account for business travel, which allows a business to earn additional miles on top of the miles their travellers would earn. That would be totally fine for his own business, but he set it up for a fertility clinic, of which he was not a part. Furthermore, whenever a customer would book travel through Podolski in his role as a travel agent, he’d enter the fertility clinic’s SkyBonus loyalty program number.

The clients wouldn’t care because they’d still get their personal frequent flyer miles, and unless they really scrutinised the booking, they’d never even notice that a SkyBonus number had been entered, or know what it was if they did. As one can imagine, a travel agent books thousands upon thousands of airline tickets, and it’s presumed that-that’s how Delta eventually got the idea that something wasn’t right. How did a small time “fertility clinic” have thousands of employees constantly traversing the globe?

delta a350By entering the fertility clinic as the SkyBonus recipient, an account which Mr. Podolski allegedly controlled, he was able to rake in 42 million Delta Skymiles, a haul which Delta values at $1.75 million dollars in actual cash value. It’s uknown just how many free trips Mr. Podolski was able to enjoy from the fruits of his ill gotten labour, but you can do quite a lot with 42 million miles, quite a lot – and Delta reports that he used them all!

Charges have been filed for fraud, given that Mr. Podolski did not work at the fertility clinic, and that it likely had no idea he had set up a SkyBonus account for them – and of course, none of his customers had a clue or connection about a fertility clinic either. Yikes.

If there’s a takeaway here, it’s that those who do have their own businesses, however large or small, should double up their frequent flyer miles by signing up for business loyalty accounts, in addition to their personal frequent flyer accounts. Here’s a link to Delta’s, American’s, United’s, Virgin Atlantic’s and British Airways.  But if you do, you really can’t abuse them with fake employees, especially if they number in the thousands…

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