Man Uses Fake IDs To Book 1953 Free Flights In 21 Months

A former airline employee has been sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for using fake airline credentials to book 1953 free flights on Spirit Airlines over a 21 month period.

He was a Mesa Airlines employee for four months in 2015 before being fired by the regional airline. Mesa operates as both American Eagle and United Express. He learned to use his employee travel benefits from Mesa to fly Spirit with his credentials.

From February 2016 through November 2017 he took the information of Mesa employees that was needed to book free flights on Spirit through that carrier’s online portal. It was the online booking tool for interstate travel which triggered the federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

In addition to his own travel, he admits that he “manufactured and sold fraudulent Mesa employee identification cards for use by the fraudulent travelers.”

The government describes these as ‘free’ flights. I’m not clear on the specific arrangement he was using through Mesa, though assuming these were Zed fares they aren’t free.

Regardless of any costs involved for the free flights, it’s been determined that Spirit lost $150,000 from these bookings or about $77 per flight. With most airline cases the values are inflated, with the airline estimating losses based on full fares. This is Spirit so the amounts are more reasonable.

However the ‘loss’ to the carrier isn’t the fare that would have been paid for travel (because travel likely wouldn’t have occurred, or wouldn’t have occurred on Spirit) but the marginal cost to carry a passenger (mostly fuel) except where flights were actually full and the fraudulent bookings displaced a paying customer – unlikely in the case of fraudulent nonrev travel.

Nonetheless the man has been ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution. If he was fired from Mesa Airlines he probably will have difficulty doing that.

Five co-defendants have pled not guilty and await trial (or a future plea).

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. 1900 flights on Spirit? That sounds absolutely insane, I wouldn’t take 3 flights on Spirit.

  2. Spirit should be paying $150k to him for the endurance to put up with that many flights. They also possibly made ancillary fees on those tickets they otherwise might not have collected?

  3. Spirit doesn’t have a bilateral employee travel agreement with United (other than flight crew jumpseat).

  4. Agree, this guy is a national treasure. Anyone who can endure that many flights on Spirit should receive a heroes welcome in airport lounges around the world.

    Should we do a kickstarter to make things right? Who’s onboard?

  5. @Jim Baround – this sounded a lot like jumpseat flowback, which is indeed 100% free (at least at the carriers I’ve worked at).

    When I’ve non-rev’d on ZED fares, I think I might have had to show my airline ID a handful of times (that being said, I can count the number of times on my fingers where I needed to ZED domestically). Crew flowback needs to show their ID for every flight they use the benefit.

  6. @Jeff, yes but Gary said it was likely through a “zed” agreement that mainline United has with Spirit. I was pointing out that no such agreement exists. He’s changed what was in the original post, but hasn’t made a note that he edited it, or mentioned what was edited.

    Even if it was jumpseat flowback, it would have nothing to do with United. Jumpseat agreeements are directly between carriers, while Mesa employees may get “zed” travel benefits based on reciprocal agreements that mainline United has, they would not have jumpseat agreements that way.

    However, the article itself talks about using actual Mesa employees identities to book tickets for other people on Spirit. Not exactly sure how that would work.

  7. The real question is why did he fly so many times? 21 months x 30 days = 630 days for 1953 flights or about 3 flights/day on average. It is not like he was seated in J and getting free meals and drinks or chasing an elusive lifetime elite status with Spirit. Obviously, there was some other purpose.

  8. Hmmm, better not use those corporate codes for hotel or rental car discounts. And don’t try getting the AAA discount if you’re not a member.

  9. It sounds like he flew some flights himself, but then sold/gave flights to friends/family/other people who must have known they were getting shady/illegal flights because they had to use fake MESA ids.

  10. Mesa probably has a service charge interline fare/pass with Spirit. My company has one. The fee just covers the taxes/fees. Very easy to use some other employees’ ID number to book travel. The website used can be accessed from an app. The sad thing is this will cause the airlines to make it more difficult to access flying interline with other airlines. I actually applaud Spirit for prosecuting. I am sure that Spirit has advised the airlines that they interline with, to watch for unusual employee purchases. Interline usage is tracked, so that airline can determine if an agreement is worthy of being extended. I guess this guy thought no one was watching?

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