Breaking a Bank’s Airfare Refund Correlation


Let’s get something out of the way before we discuss: Return fraud is real, and I’m not suggesting that you do anything like it. That said, there are a number of reasons that you may want to make correlation between a charge and a refund difficult, for example when you’re working with bank sign-up bonuses at a bank that rhymes with “mace”. Here’s an annoying and real issue with this bank. Let’s suppose that you:

  • Apply for a credit card with a sign-up bonus after spending $4,000
  • Spend $3,992 on random things
  • Spend $10 on three bottles of kombucha, which triggers your sign-up bonus posting and makes this transaction special
  • Notice mold in the kombucha, and return it, which gets your $10 back and leads to a clawback of your bonus (again, that transaction was special)
  • Buy something else to push you back over $4,000, but the bonus doesn’t post
  • Open a case with the bank and wait 6-8 weeks for it to resolve

We could fix this in a few ways, for example by returning two bottles in one transaction and a third bottle in another transaction, or by buying a stick of gum in the same transaction as returning three bottles so that the refund amount doesn’t match the original purchase amount. Either way, we’re preventing the bank’s algorithms from matching the original purchase with refund.

Airfare Specific Tricks

Thinking about how to break automatic correlation is a fun mental exercise, can save your sign-up bonus, and is potentially interesting for other reasons too. Now, let’s discuss getting the same effect with airfares. Some angles work in general while others are airline specific. To set you on the right path, consider the following:

  • Buy a refundable airfare, switch it to another slightly more expensive flight, pay the difference
  • Look for an upcharge that refunds automatically with airfare, like:
    • Pet charges
    • Seat selection fees
    • Cabin upgrades
  • Buy a refundable airfare, and call the airline to book into a higher fare bucket
  • Change a refundable ticket to a cheaper flight to get an immediate partial refund

See, mental exercises are fun too!

Only at MEAB can we correlate moldy tea with bank sign-up bonuses. You’re welcome I guess?

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