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.

For example, my connecting flight got canceled last night. At first, the airline offered 2500 miles, which I estimate is worth about 30 bucks.

But I claimed the refund for the canceled portion instead, and it worked out to be $112.07.

— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) July 2, 2022

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)

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