Trying to Use Miles for Official Travel and Then Get Reimbursed Doesn’t Fly

OK, this might seem obvious to all of you, but I do get readers asking if they can use their FF miles for official travel and then file for reimbursement based upon the GSA fare.  Trading miles for money doesn’t cut it in the Government system.  Not to mention that the airlines might confiscate your miles if they got wind of a scheme like this.  When researching a topic for this week, I came across on old court case where someone tried this unseccessfully and I thought that I would share in case you’re interested.

Dr. Roy Roth,  a civilian employee of the  Department of the
Army  in Research  Triangle  Park, North  Carolina,  was sent  on
temporary  duty to  Jackson  Hole,  Wyoming  in  September  1995.
According to the Army, the cost of a round-trip Government ticket
was $1,347.   Dr. Roth  planned to stop  for personal reasons  in
Denver, Colorado.  When he found that the stopover would cost him
an additional $260, Dr. Roth decided to use his personal frequent
flyer miles to obtain a round-trip ticket from  Raleigh-Durham to
Denver.  After telling Dr. Roth  initially that reimbursement for
the value of the trip “seemed fair,” the Government travel office
informed  him a  few days before  the trip  that he could  not be
reimbursed  for a ticket  “purchased” with frequent  flyer miles.
Dr. Roth went ahead as planned and filed a claim which included a
charge of  $352, which  was the Government  contract price  for a
round-trip ticket from Raleigh-Durham to Denver, as well as a $50
fee which Dr. Roth incurred  in connection with redemption of the
mileage  credits.   The   round-trip   ticket   from
Denver  to Jackson  Hole cost  the Government  $446, for  a total
airfare of $848 using Dr. Roth’s methodology.

The  agency denied  Dr. Roth’s  claim for  the value  of the
Raleigh-Durham to  Denver  portion of  his trip  because he  used
frequent flyer miles  to obtain it.  Dr. Roth has asked the Board
to review that denial.  They later granted reimbursement for the $50 fee for using his miles.

The legal basis for this is that you can only be reimbursed for an expense you incur.  If you incur nothing, and miles have zero value in a legal sense, then you cannot be reimbursed.  I know that there are a lot of people out there that try to put a value on miles (generally $0.02 per mile), however, they actually have no value as they are airline funny money that could be taken away at any moment.  The miles technically belong to the airlines, not you.

Hmmm, I guess if someone hacked your account and stole all of your miles, it wouldn’t be a crime because they didn’t steal anything of value?  Run that past your local JAG officer and watch his or her head spin!


  1. It’s different though with hotel points. If you get fixed per diem reimbursement, then you can use your hotel points to stay in hotels while on business and collect the per diem payment fax-free.

  2. Had a trip planned to Boston to visit a friend when my company moved its new hire training to that same week, also in Boston. Was able to convince them to reimburse me for what my flight would have cost and I used my miles anyway, since I had already booked my flight before they moved the training (they moved both date and location). They even reimbursed the change fee. Granted, this was a private company instead of the government.

  3. In response to Al’s comment above… The Joint Federal Travel Regulations no longer have fixed perdiem for hotel/lodging. All expenses are reimbursed by actual expenses. Hotel points will also not work. Though they will reimburse for any taxes paid. Defense transportation requirements also now require all hotel bookings to be made through the contracted Commercial Travel Office.

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