So, I recently watched the Netflix documentary ‘The Tinder Swindler’ and I have so many questions.

This person is clearly not alone in the world of conning people and running games in the travel industry — see ‘Inventing Anna’, or ‘Fyre Festival’ — but this new documentary really raised some interesting questions to me.

Mainly, the relationships in travel and all the points! Do the hotels he stayed in care about what he’s done, or do they just care that the folio is settled? Does the swindler have a boatload of miles earned from illicit gains? So many questions!

I want to share my thoughts and understanding of a few of these questions and square them with how “we” feel about a world of increasing scrutiny towards who, what when and where, particularly in travel, particularly with the war raging in Ukraine as oligarchs jet around the world.

“Just Pay Your Bills”

Does an airline or hotel care whether you’re an international arms dealer, diamond thief or drug dealer? It’s kinda hard to know, but generally, no.

As long as you’re not doing any of the above on their flights, are they really going to refuse money from someone? Experience and my knowledge of the industry over the last decade plus would say “no”, they don’t care.

More so, they just don’t look at people that closely in most circumstances. You’re just passenger #1234567 of the day.

As long as the merchant is paid in full and there are no disturbances during the trip, travel brands seem to turn a blind eye, or rather just not really “know” what people do.

There’s no “what’s your occupation” form on flight booking flows, or hotel reservations so it’s very easy for brands to claim ignorance. Some hotels do “Google” guests before arrival to weigh things, but more for upgrades or preferences, than suitability.

For the most part, they continue to keep it that way. If there’s no law enforcement intervention or obvious red flags, little diligence is done, and very few places have ever taken ethical stands against certain guests or passengers.

Hotels or airlines seem to only really jump in and take an activist role in guests when they don’t pay, like the “Anna Delvey” story from New York, now on Netflix as Inventing Anna. In that story, the fake heiress never settled her folios after months long stays, so hotels started to put out the word to blacklist and warn other properties.

What’s interesting to me is that in the very “woke” culture we’re living in, pressure on travel brands is mounting, in terms of who they do business with.

Banks and credit card companies have cut ties with controversial political figures in recent years and Russian oligarchs are starting to get more notoriety than they might prefer, with those who help their activities facing additional scrutiny. Does a significant hotel brand want to risk the reputation damage?

Tinder Swindler: Points And Status?

In the brief clips from the Netflix doc, my somewhat discerning eye was able to spy some Emirates First Class action, Swiss First too, and a favoritism toward very well known luxury hotel chains, like the Mandarin Oriental Group.

Did the ‘Tinder Swindler’ earn points for these trips? He was quite obviously ripping off people’s Amex cards to make most of the charges, and Amex seemed all too aware of the swindlers identity, so his ability to collect Amex Points seems limited, but he would have been earning a crazy amount of airline miles or hotel points.

It’s likely he was able to redeem lots of points during his savagery of these innocent people, which raises even more questions. Does he read blogs, like this one to max out his return on points?

For as awful as he is, he seems to cunning not to have taken advantage of the benefits that would come with his level of travel.

Did these points or elite statuses get forfeited during trials? I wouldn’t think so.

The swindler was able to avoid much of the prosecution he (should’ve) been on the hook for, largely by claiming the money was borrowed from friends. Since he hadn’t stolen cards, it could be made into a “he said, she said” owe you money situation, and not something that crossed legal barriers, even if it blew past ethical barriers.

On this basis, even activist programs would struggle to justify booting him, even though he 100% deserves to be. If the banks arent clawing the charges back from the hotels and airlines, there’s no real reason (outside of morality) to take things away.

If, which we don’t really know, Amex did initiate chargebacks on behalf of its business and the many women he defrauded, then there would be real ease and justification for taking back any elite status or points.

I’d argue there would be good grounds for more action, given the costs and admin that would’ve been needed to deal with the charge backs, and the services rendered.

More Complicated: The Aliases!

Is he this name, or that name? In the documentary, even if his mother called him by a different name. This guy seems to very easily forge documents giving him new brand new identities, which adds another whole layer to the mess.

Could this guy simply start booking new tickets and hotel stays under an alias, with little appetite from travel brands to keep up with his ever rotating stories and names. In Israel, social media would suggest he’s already up to no good, so it’s only a matter of time before the itch to travel will likely strike.

Have you seen The Tinder Swindler? What are your thoughts?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Gilbert,
    Met you at a travel event. I’m actually on dating sites so that was very “real” for me as I saw a friend send “someone on a dating site money”. It’s a sad situation for the ladies from the movie but as someone who is on the sites, you have to have your guard up. I had guys trying to scam me but I “saw them coming”. I hope that the victims got to keep the points. Good movie but sad story.

  2. Perhaps taking advantage of naive, romance hungry, fast aging, western women is easier than navigating the complexities of frequent flier programs?

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