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Cellist Banned From Frequent Flyer Program After Accruing Miles for Instrument's Seat


"...I am sorry and perplexed that airlines like Delta are willing to turn down the opportunity to maintain long time customers and income..."

Lynn Harrell (Photo: Christian Steiner/LynnHarrell.com)

The well-known cellist of 40 years Lynn Harrell describes himself on his blog as "playing almost everywhere of note in the classical music scene." With that being the case, he is no stranger to air travel and the burden of flying with an instrument that he wouldn't trust to be carried in the belly of a plane.

In a recent blog post, Harrell explained that since he pays for two full-price seats when he travels -- one for him and one for "Mr. Cello" -- he had been racking up frequent flier miles for both as well, through a variety of airlines.

"Over the course of my entire career, I’ve been building miles under the cello’s account and in turn, those miles help reduce the costs of flights for the cello in future trips," he wrote in a recent post. "All of this helps keep my fees under control and ultimately passes along lower ticket prices to those buying concert tickets."

He has run into a snag with Delta's Skymiles program over this practice though, resulting in the seizure of all his miles accrued through the program and his being banned from future membership. Delta Skymiles auditor Jonsey Vee wrote in a letter that Harrell was advised in a 2001 warning letter that he was not allowed to earn miles for his cello -- Harrell says his travel agent never received such a letter. The letter goes on to detail the cancellation of Harrell's account and forfeiture of all his miles and other award points. The letter wast sent to Harrell in January but he is just writing on his blog about it now.

Harrell to NBC News though said that Delta was the one that kept awarding him miles over the years.

Letter sent from SkyMiles auditor to Lynn Harrell. (Image: LynnHarrell.com)

Delta's SkyMiles policy states that it will not award miles for "tickets purchased to carry excess baggage, such as musical instruments and pets or to provide extra space for the primary passenger."

Harrell goes on to write in a post "No Miles for You!":

Given all of the extra work airlines incur for tracking down criminally minded cellists, I can understand why a zealous leadership is always watching out for criminal acts with an eye toward reducing the financial burden of running an airline. I can see the motivational office posters now: “They must be stopped” or “Only You Can Prevent Cello Miles Theft.”

I feel relieved that I had not used any of my Delta Miles for personal reasons; goodness knows what complications there would be in rewinding vacation trips, upgrades, etc. Fortunately, I never used Mr. Cello’s miles for anyone except Mr. Cello!

I am lucky, I guess. I breathe a sigh of relief. But I am sorry and perplexed that airlines like Delta are willing to turn down the opportunity to maintain long time customers and income (my career has been in full swing for more than 40 years!) for nothing more than the ability to make a quick one-off buck now by selling my miles. Oh well, to each their own.

NBC News reported Harrell saying that other airlines' frequent flyer policies do allow him and "Mr. Cello" to accrue miles, like United, Alaska and Lufthansa. Further, Harrell told NBC that he felt Delta's actions were "out of the blue" and he also criticized them for taking his own personal miles.

“They could have just simply taken the miles away from the cello and be done with that," Harrell said, according to NBC.

Featured image via Shutterstock.com. 

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