American Samoa to Confiscate Frequent Flyer Miles from Government Workers

Up until 2001, employees of the US federal government were not allowed to accrue frequent flyer miles from official travel and apply them towards personal trips. They were supposed to earn miles and use them to offset the cost of government travel.

This didn’t really happen in practice. Since employees weren’t benefiting from collecting miles, those that weren’t attuned to also earning elite status tended not to bother collecting the miles at all.

There was no good way of tracking the miles earned on government travel, and certainly no good centralized way of monitoring this. It’s difficult to parse out miles earned from one type of activity from miles earned for things like credit card spend, rental cars, hotel stays, transfers in from other programs, etc.

And then actually using the miles for work purposes represents a challenge, since there’s usually far less flexibility and no desire to go through the hassle of getting the seats.

Ultimately the federal government determined that the policy wasn’t actually saving money. So why take away the benefits? Now there’s plenty of data that argues low-skilled federal jobs pay more than comparable work in the private sector, once factoring in all benefits. But those job aren’t necessarily the ones which involve travel. Many high-skill jobs don’t pay as well (though this is a very tough issue to parse well), and there was concern that denying mileage-earning was one way in which federal employment of high skilled workers was at a disadvantage relative to private employment.

If it didn’t actually save money for the federal government to dictate all miles would be used for business travel, why not let employees keep their miles as is standard in the private sector?

Twelve years later, American Samoa has apparently decided that government business travel will accrue miles only to offset government travel costs, according to the Associated Press’ Fili Sagapolutele.

American Samoa plans to take away frequent flier miles from government workers who travel on behalf of the U.S. territory.

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga says the territory will use the miles to help medical patients travel off-island when needed, or help students travel for educational programs.

Moliga says Hawaiian Airlines agreed to the plan that takes effect June 1. Hawaiian is the only carrier connecting the U.S. territory to the rest of the country.

According to American Samoa’s government, they’ve solved the issue of co-mingled miles. Hawaiian will apparently be depositing miles into a separate account for use by the government of American Samoa.

Hawaiian seems especially accommodating, considering that the Samoan govenrment has gone all populist on it in the past over its high fares. Hawaiian is the only carrier service Pago Pago in American Samoa. (independent Samoa on the other hand has service to the US, New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere). And fares are higher because they can’t fill the planes but continue service with US federal subsidies.

Legislation demanding this has been bandied about in American Samoa since at least 2008, though it would likely have been pre-empted by the U.S.’s Airline Deregulation Act.

Still, I wonder how easy it will be to get saver seats on Hawaiian’s thrice-weekly Pago Pago flights. ‘Coach flex’ awards run 55,000 miles each way from Pago Pago to Honolulu. And who will be tasked with booking the awards? Working with HawaiianMiles can be a vexing task indeed. I suspect this won’t amount to much savings for the U.S. territory.

And there’s as yet no indication how this edict will play out with travel beyond Honolulu on other airlines.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Welcome to Pago Pago Comrades ! Let us secure you a job as a traveling tractor factory salesperson so that those evil capitalist will buy our goods. Don’t feel guilty we can certainly take care of your air miles and will deposit them into “the people’s” account for you.

    Seriously, how long before we hear of some high level government officially using “the people’s ” miles to jet off to some exotic location with booze and hookers.

  2. It may last for a year or so, then Amerikan Samoa will realize that their single connecting airline is essentially pocketing most of the miles – because seats are so difficult to obtain – and eventually trash their new “law.” So silly!
    As for US Government wages and compensation, yes, some groups are over paid and some are under paid. The only effective way to do ‘very well’ in USG employment is to start young, sell your soul, learn the system and give up your personal integrity. And yes, plan to spend about 40% of your paid time ‘managing’ your career and your benefits. Lifers validate other Lifers and short term employees (those who stay for less than 10 years) are regarded as an annoyance. Sharp employees and those willing to actually DO their assigned work, are not generally welcome at the everyday working level.

  3. @Cook I find it offensive that you think working for the federal government is selling your soul. Sure some people who work for the government are idiots, but so are people I work with in the private sector.

  4. Ignoring the topic of “employee benefits,” I don’t have a problem with the government (or any company) confiscating miles for its own use as long as it can do this in a way that is consistent and avoids the issues you mentioned at the beginning of the post. At the end of the day, they’re paying for it. It sounds like Hawaiian has found a way to make it work for American Samoa.

  5. Forget confiscating miles–employers, including the government, should encourage employees to pursue elite status so the companies can benefit from the elite fee waivers.

    I have a friend in ANC who works for a major medical provider. He is actually required to fly Alaska because his MVP Gold status not only saves them on baggage fees but also on ticket change fees (which, like JetBlue is now doing, are waived for higher-level elites, even on revenue tickets).


  6. If I worked for an organization that did this, I would immediately begin searching for other employment.

  7. Time for your daily right-wing talking points – what a surprise. I see the fax from Fox News is coming through right on schedule.

  8. @Stan – how in the world does questioning having benefits taken away from government workers constitute right wing? I guess some people just see what they want to see.

  9. A lot of countries require that the employees use the corporate mileage program whenever the trip is paid by the company. Small business owners apply the same concept. Just because US corporations have not chosen to enforce this option, does not mean that they cannot.

    If you did not pay for the ticket you may not be entitled to the miles. The fact that you get them is a privilege not a right! (and we all enjoy it)

  10. The US airline deregulation legislation does not eliminate the possibility of a country, state or other territory to enter into a business relationship with its travel service providers that allow the paying entity (government in this case) to accrue the miles in an account rather than the actual government-funded passenger.

  11. @GUWonder – they can negotiate pricing, absolutely. But they likely cannot legislate pricing, which was my reference to what was being bandied about in 2008

  12. There’s nothing in the least bit vexing about using Hawaiian miles to buy coach tickets on Hawaiian, which is presumably how this will work. The values aren’t very good, but they’re dead simple to use.

  13. Did that summer 2008 legislative bill in American Samoa really legislate price?

    An effort by the territory to enter into a business relationship with its travel service providers that allow the paying entity (government in this case) to accrue the miles in a special account rather than in the accounts of the actual government-funded passenger would also then not have been a violation of the airline deregulation act.

    Was there something specific in that 2008 legislative bill in American Samoa that was a violation of our federal airline deregulation act? Or is the indication about a violation of the Airline Deregulation Act really just talk about something that didn’t make it into even a legislative bill in 2008, thereby mooting the talk about even the 2008 bill being pre-empted by the Airline Deregulation Act were it to have passed into law?

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