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Paying for miles with your privacy.

March 28th, 2014

Drs. Andor Demarteau

Over the last several years, commercial companies have increasingly found social media as a new platform to strengthen their brands and give away perks, or at least pretend you have the chance of winning something.

Increasingly, these actions also seem to attract people towards social media. Because if you don’t have an account on Facebook or Twitter (the latter to a lesser percentage of usage), you simply cannot take part in the newest sweepstakes of your “favoured” brand.

I shall now look at two very different ways that airlines are making use of your social habits and profiles: KLM’s Meet & Seat program, and American Airlines’ current AAdvantage Passport Challenge promotion.

KLM: Meet & Seat

This KLM initiative is aimed at passengers who travel alone, and interested in sitting (or being seated) next to another passenger with similar interests for a particular flight. The idea is to share bits of your social media profile, from either a Facebook or LinkedIn account, so that other passengers, also choosing to share, can find a seat near a fellow passenger having similar interests and who is travelling to the same destination (for example, a conference or business meeting).

No perks, no costs. More importantly, the relevant data is removed from KLM’s systems 48 hours after the flight’s departure. Why 48 hours, and not directly after wheels-up, is a bit of a mystery. But at least there seems to be no harm done here (or is there?)

American Airlines: AAdvantage Passport Challenge

Another way of using social media, according to American Airlines, is to ask its frequent flyers to engage in a bit of fun…

Playing games relating to brand knowledge, and copying the correct answers from several blog posts on the Internet, will earn you 700 miles. A bit of fun for free frequent flyer currency — sounds okay…

At the same time, it attempts to get users to sell their own privacy (and their friends’ too) for a measly 350 bonus miles!

But the most miles earnable, rightly enough, is by flying with American Airlines, US Airways or one of their oneworld partners. Apparently, you can earn up to 500 bonus miles per flight taken, with bonuses possibly summing to over 9,000 miles depending on the number of achievements unlocked.

So if you fly often enough within the two months this program runs, sell your own and (possibly) your friends’ privacy, and play some games on which the answers can be found with a simple google, you could probably earn up to half a ticket or so. A Facebook account is a mandatory part of this deal.

But are those miles really for free?

Depends how you interpret this particular terms-and-conditions clause from AA’s web site:

12. USE OF DATA.  Sponsor will be collecting personal data about participants online, in accordance with its privacy policy.  Please review the Sponsor’s privacy policy at  By participating in the Promotion, entrants hereby agree to Sponsor’s collection and usage of their personal information and acknowledge that they have read and accepted Sponsor’s privacy policy.

But is American Airlines the only “sponsor” profiting here?

Only the sun rises for free…

At least that is the lesson I was taught all the time as a kid.

Nothing ever comes for free, except the rising sun every day.

Ask yourself this the next time your favourite airlines tempts you to share personal information with them for some miles, or an interesting flight companion:

“What is the actual costs for me, my personal life and my privacy?”

Or have we already gone down this path too far, where privacy has become a commodity good only available to those who really care or can afford it?

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