Secretary Pete Buttigieg Estimates The Value Of Miles, Strands Himself Mid-Trip

Secretary Pete Buttigieg says he was taking a connecting flight Friday evening and the airline (which he doesn’t name) cancelled his connection, so he insisted on refunding the segment. If things happened the way he describes, he stranded himself mid-trip in a city that wasn’t his destination, and he doesn’t ell us how he wound up making it the rest of the journey.

Along the way he offers commentary on the value of frequent flyer miles, which he estimates are worth ‘between 1 and 1.5 cents apiece’ (he’s right!) and settles on a value of 1.2 cents for the particular miles he was offered.

Let’s unpack this a little bit:

  • He says he was offered 2500 miles but took a refund instead. This doesn’t quite make sense. He may have been offered 2500 miles as an apology, but it would be very strange for that to happen during the trip itself, rather than after the trip as a proactive email or in response to a complaint.

  • Let’s take him at his word though that he had a choice of 2500 miles or a refund. He says he took the refund. My first thought was maybe he took the refund for the entire one-way… that the cancellation happened before his journey commenced… but he says he took a refund only for the cancelled portion (which he describes as his connecting flight).

  • This suggests he insisted on a refund mid-trip, that he cancelled his ticket while in his connecting city, and he’d have had to make it the rest of the way on his own. He’s not entitled to both onward travel and a refund at least unless Bernie Sanders’ new plan is adopted.

It’s possible that Secretary Buttigieg took the refund and then purchased a new flight on another airline. Or perhaps it was a very short segment and he used the refund to fund a ground segment (rental car or Uber). Or he used miles – at a value greater than 1.2 cents! – to cover the cost of the rest of his trip.

Otherwise the story he shares doesn’t make a lot of sense. At a minimum it’s unclear, though it’s also potentially misleading because it seems to suggest that he took a refund and had no additional steps to get where he was going.

Still, I’m impressed that he knows how much frequent flyer miles are worth considering the Department of Transportation improperly ignores complaints about frequent flyer programs. It’s even more impressive since before his role as Transportation Secretary, Buttigieg had no particular experience in transportation policy (though he did get engaged at Chicago O’Hare’s United gate B5.

It’s important to remember though that the value of miles in each frequent flyer program is different, they’re not all the same, all worth $0.01 – $0.015 apiece. Instead some are worth 1.5 cents while others are worth just one. Secretary Pete, please use your platform to expose what a dumpster fire the SkyMiles program is.

(HT: @CircleBackPat)

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. As I immediately tweeted, if you ask for a refund, your trip is over unless you’re claiming ‘Trip in Vain’ and honestly any good letter to CS gets you the miles later on along with the refund if you choose not to travel.

    But to tell people ask for a refund is asinine since I’ve got people tweeting “No this is compensation for the disruption, the airline still has to get you to your destination”

    Very unacceptable tweet by the Secretary of Transportation

  2. Time to assign a value to frequent flyer miles and hotels earned while flying for work on OPM

    Treat it as income, and tax accordingly.

  3. Pete honestly sucks. He won’t push the airlines or anything to fix problems. Basically, Pete only cares about Pete and not offending any potential big backers.

  4. @Joanie did not realize that is a job requirement for the Transportation Secretary.

  5. If he got a refund, as he claims, the must’ve cancelled his return trip….Maybe he’s not coming back? 🙂

  6. The clown who took time off during the supply chain crisis that will be the blame for all problems during the last 2 years (plus Russia, of course).

  7. The worst part of Mayor Pete’s thread was him making it sounds like the incredible deal he “negotiated” (getting his money back) is thanks to our benevolent federal government.

  8. Wasn’t he a management consultant at McKinsey? Then it doesn’t surprise me that he sort of gets the value of miles.

    A lot of guys in the consulting world have had the frequent flyer program game as a hobby of sorts, and discussions about how to use the miles has been proverbial water cooler talk at such offices.

    Being Transportation Secretary is like a thankless, political dead end job.

  9. I think he is in OVER HIS HEAD when it comes to his Job in Transportation… SAD who we have runninbg our counbtry and so many major departments ,,,,

  10. My guess is that he ended up at ORD and didn’t see the point of waiting and potentially gambling on what happens with the next available flight to his ticketed destination. Driving from (or being driven from) ORD to his preferred destination may have been the natural choice. The guy is smart enough to figure out what makes sense for himself.

  11. Hal – what would you do to fix the airlines? Do you think their labor shortages can be fixed overnight? I am not defending the airlines, but this is a very difficult labor shortage the country is in. My sense is we are looking at least 6 months of these cancelations before the industry is right-sized…maybe longer. But instead of cheap shots, let’s hear your solution.

  12. Dee,

    His confirmed predecessor in the Transportation Secretary position got the job because she has had a long-standing sexual relationship with Republican US Senator Mitch McConnell. You know the very US Senator who gave Trump and you those very Supreme Court Justices that have made this into a country where impregnated 10 year old girls are forced to give birth to rapists’ children unless they manage to flee to a place where they can try to take back control of their own body and be purged of the embryo/fetus that would otherwise be the rapist’s child.

  13. 1) I think it is a very good thing for a Transportation Secretary to experience the nation’s transportation system first hand.
    2) The airline did not see a value in the Transportation Secretary as a customer or a decision maker because the initial compensation was only 2,500 miles. It is widely believed that persons involved in major travel decisions are given top-tier status(es) by airlines. If Pete would be such a person, he would be certainly CK, Premier 1K, etc. and his compensation for the cancelled flight would be higher.
    3) Possibly, Pete was flying from DC to South Bend International with connections in ORD (about 2 hrs by car) or DTW (about 3 hr). If so, then it would not make sense for him to wait for rebooking if the last segment is cancelled.

  14. One of an unending gaggle of worthless political hacks infesting this administration. A two bit publicty stunt as he was, no doubt, heading for a vacation while the US air tranportation system burns over the 4th. Only one reason this clown is even in DC and it sure ain’t due to his abilties or credentials.

  15. Pete ButtHead should get a real job, more inline with her talents. Like flipping burgers at McDonalds.

  16. Another possibility is that he requisitioned a GSA motor pool vehicle in the connection city to his destination. If he was traveling on government business, this would be perfectly permissible for any government employee in that situation, although his refund would need to be turned in to DOT.

    I find it even more interesting that he would travel commercial at all. As a Cabinet Secretary, he is entitled to use a government VC-20 on official business. Security concerns alone would militate in favor of his using it even for personal business (with reimbursement). He is no different from a corporate executive using a company plane. Certainly all of the Cabinet level people in the prior administration would have done so.

  17. the comments on this are so far right of right that I cannot see where the speakers uttered the words. They speak from the abyss. Perhaps they are 400 pound Russian bots. @David Miller is great example. Calm down and buck up David.

    This is a silly post but I understand Gary needs content. Many are using it as a platform to attack Pete for, well, just about everything or anything.

  18. and David has company. See: Dee and Alan. Y’all ought to head over to the WSJ. You’ll fit the profile for a commentator there too!!

  19. It could be “denied boarding compensation” instead of “refund”. He would then keep his remaining segment.

  20. Remember when United would bend over backwards to kiss the PANYNJ chairman’s ass? Now airlines tell the DOT Secretary go suck a……. well, nevermind.
    Also, I hear Mayor Pete’s got another one in the oven.

  21. @GUWonder – I’m not going to bother responding to the rightwing nutjobs here, but your attack on Elaine Chou is a bad look. Chou was one of the few Trump cabinet members actually qualified for her job, including her prior service as Deputy Transportation Secretary—before she married McConnell (not to mention her time as Secretary of Labor.) So let’s do away with the tired trope of the woman who supposedly slept her way to the top.

  22. Gary
    I have unsubscribed from your page!
    I am looking for useful travel information and not a right-wing blog.

  23. TDA,

    McConnell’s wife didn’t “sleep her way to the top”, but she has been in a long-standing sexual relationship with McConnell that assisted her opportunities to land plum positions inside and outside of government. McConnell and her didn’t have an asexual relationship.

    Her family paved her way to the top from the start, and they have been padding even McConnell’s bank in ways since.

    My comment was not an attack on Chao; it was a criticism of McConnell and how such positions go around in DC.


    Every Admin/cabinet in your lifetime has been full of political hacks. Nothing new here.

    The current DOT Secretary is a smart guy in an operationally thankless position. Such post is one way to try to railroad someone out of future political relevance while still handing out candy for political favors of one sort or another. I don’t know what his income was while he was in the private sector as a management consultant, but they get paid reasonably well and often fly around a lot on OPM. He was hired by the premier brand management consultancy …. for all the good and bad that means.

  24. Retired Lawyer,

    I’ve seen DOT Secs flying commercially since the beginning of my flying life at National/DCA.

  25. why doesn’t he spend some time working to improve the enormous problems we have in this country that are hurting americans – rather than get on social media and join the victim chorus like a teenager – what a do-nothing incompetent lightweight

  26. @bigbird

    Na we’re the normal ones. Most people see the Biden regime for what it is. A bunch of diversity hires led by a vegetable.

  27. @GUWonder – you can b-i-t-c-h and whine all you want about Mitch McConnell who supposedly “gave” us “Supreme Court Justices”. I love watching all this histrionics.
    But it was Harry Reid who made it happen, by getting rid of judicial filibuster. All Cocaine Mitch did was use the rules Democrats made… Now, I can’t wait for morons like AOC and Bernie and Pocahontas push for getting rid of the rest of the filibuster rules. I would love to see how it again bites them in the a$$.

  28. The supporters of the seditious buffoon con-man-in-chief Trump are out in full force in the comments section here and providing a great view into the hypocritical wacky right-wing.

  29. joseph ellis,

    The root of these problems are not new to this Administration and PB’s time at DOT.

    By the way, what were you saying about your Lord Trump when he was the Twitterer-in-Chief as POTUS?

    I am pretty certain that no US President in my lifetime has wasted as much of their time watching TV and checking out their social media feeds on their phone at the White House as your favorite clown, the Con-man-in-Chief Trump. PB seems to have better set his priorities in life better than the seditious narcissistic psychopath Trump under whom a train wreck was already underway even before PB was short-listed for USDOT Secretary.

  30. They are anti-national elements, KoggerJ.

    Nothing patriotic about supporting the seditious con-man-in-chief Trump who said he loves the people who stormed the Capitol, the crowd from which rang howls of “Hang Mike Pence!”.

  31. @ Koggerj says:

    “They are patriots”

    But are you even able to recognise a patriot? Make your choice…

    Person One

    “I urge all Americans…to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.”

    Person Two (who, incidentally trashed the patriotic record of Person One):

    “This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election…This is a major fraud in our nation.”


    “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules.”

  32. @ tda

    I’m reading that Chou has not been without controversy – no? Found to have used government assets to promote her family’s interests whilst said family made political donations worth millions – no?

  33. @ joseph ellis

    “rather than get on social media and join the victim chorus like a teenager – what a do-nothing incompetent lightweight”

    Simple question – if any of you Donald ducklings can park your easily triggered dumb-jerk reflexes to deploy whatever few neurones you possess to independent thought…

    Does the content of the cited tweets provide good advice to the travelling public or not?

    Is the advice correct to expect a cash refund, to take such over the miles, and be able to value the miles offered to ensure you’ve chosen the better deal?

    @ Gary has spun this story for maximum troll baiting (it worked) with a whole old of presumptive “unpacking”. Meanwhile, he hasn’t found time to correct basic error in his recent article on El Al, even when pointed out to him: I note that certain other bloggers have the integrity and humility to remedy their inaccuracies.

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