SAN DIEGO : Frequent Flier Racks Up 78 Counts

A San Diego man pleaded guilty Tuesday to 78 felony counts in San Diego federal court in connection with a scheme to defraud USAir by manipulating the airline's frequent flier program.

David W. Edwards, 58, pleaded guilty to mail fraud, wire fraud and using fraudulently obtained credit cards, prosecutors said.

Between June, 1988, and January, 1992, Edwards opened up some 145 USAir frequent flier accounts in various names, booked thousands of reservations, bought tickets using at least five counterfeit credit cards and checked in for flights at airports around the nation, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Marian McGuire, the prosecutor in the case.

Under USAir rules, a check-in earned frequent flier credits for the flight, even if the customer does not board the plane. Edwards never surrendered his tickets, using them instead to obtain refunds or new tickets for which he could claim more credits.

Within 18 months, McGuire said, Edwards generated more than 2.5 million miles worth of credits and obtained 73 free travel certificates worth about $75,000. He sold the certificates for about $350 per round trip, McGuire said.

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