Why American AAdvantage is closing some accounts
Today I received a few tweets from people asking me why I haven’t covered the reports of a significant number of Closing US AAdvantage Accounts.
It’s been going on for a few weeks now, but it’s interesting that I haven’t received any messages or comments on this until today, so I think it’s safe to say that OMAAT readers mostly follow the rules (because on other sites it seems like a huge talking point).
Nonetheless, I thought I would share my understanding of what is going on, as well as my perspective.
– Todd (@ TheRealYG17) December 18, 2019
– Chas Lutz (@chaslutz) December 18, 2019
Airline safety knows what they’re doing
Airlines have corporate security services who are responsible for many functions, and among these is ensuring that people participating in loyalty programs play by the rules.
Sometimes accounts are audited or even closed, and this can happen for a variety of reasons. It does appear that American is closing many AAdvantage accounts due to questionable activity, so allow me to share my understanding of what is going on.
What prompts Americans to close their accounts?
There are reports that Americans have contacted a significant number of AAdvantage members in recent weeks and informed them that their accounts are being closed.
I have no idea how many “real” people this affects, but I think it involves tens of millions of AAdvantage miles, if not more.
I will share my understanding of what is going on. For context, as most of you probably know, credit card issuers have rules regarding who they will approve for cards, including only allowing you to get a bonus (or card) from time to time. The credit card companies have done the math on this and they have reasons for these rules.
Apparently, some techniques people use to get around these rules have caused this situation. Here’s what I understand, after someone just spoke to me on condition of anonymity:
- Citi has sent emails and physical letters to new AAdvantage members offering them a bonus on the Citi Platinum AAdvantage card, and there is no language regarding how often you can get the bonus.
- Senders have a unique code on them (emails / mailers explicitly state that offers are only for the intended recipient), and when you complete the app you can edit the app details
- So people registered their pets / kitchen mixers / basement rats / distant cousins for AAdvantage accounts, then they got the senders, then they used those codes to sign up for Citi cards to their real AAdvantage account / in their own name, without the lifetime language
Essentially, this allowed people to get two Citi AAdvantage cards every 65 days. I understand some people earned millions of miles using this method because they could get two Citi cards every 65 days.
Of course, it’s worth remembering that back in the day Americans would allow you to get two Citi cards every 65 days anyway, but it was different because it fully followed the rules and didn’t involve not creating fake frequent flyer accounts, using email codes intended for others, etc.
For the safety of American businesses, it was quite easy for them to find out who did this:
- They can find households with literally dozens of AAdvantage members living there
- They can see who signed up for a Citi account using an email code not intended for them
- They can find out who has successfully signed up for an average of a Citi account every 30 days or so.
American has closed many of these members’ AAdvantage accounts and even canceled tickets booked on those accounts, even though people are halfway through their trip.
The interesting precedent that this sets
What is particularly interesting here is that the “punishment” comes from American rather than Citi. Obviously, airlines and credit card companies work closely with co-brand relationships, but generally if you break a rule with a credit card issuer, they’ll close all of your cards.
In this case, the punishment appears to be entirely on the American side, however. It’s not unreasonable or wrong, although it’s not something I can ever remember, at least to that extent.
Sample shutdown email
Here is an example of an email sent by American to a member whose AAdvantage account has been closed (as shared by Doctor of Credit):
“A recent investigation determined your involvement in multiple violations of the AAdvantage Program Terms and Conditions, related to the accumulation of miles and non-qualifying benefits, through fraud, misrepresentation and / or abuse of the program. AAdvantage. In addition, it has been determined that there are multiple violations of the carrier’s AA Terms and Conditions regarding operating practices related to your issuance of ineligible AAdvantage Rewards. In accordance with the general conditions of the AAdvantage program:
Fraud, misrepresentation, abuse or violation of applicable rules (including, but not limited to, the conditions of carriage, fares and rules of the AAdvantage® program from American or American Eagle® ) are subject to administrative and / or legal proceedings by the relevant government authorities and American Airlines. . Such action may include, without limitation, the forfeiture of all award tickets and any mileage accrued on a member’s account, as well as termination of the account and the member’s future participation in the AAdvantage® program. If your account is terminated due to improper conduct or during an investigation, you may not open a new AAdvantage® account or participate in the AAdvantage® program in any capacity without obtaining express written permission from ‘American Airlines. In addition, American Airlines reserves the right to take appropriate legal action to recover damages, including the fees of its attorneys incurred in pursuing any lawsuit.
According to the transport conditions:
Your ticket is not valid when:
- We find that the ticket was purchased using an operating practice
As such, we must now exercise our right to terminate the AAdvantage account. All membership benefits associated with this account, including all remaining miles and award tickets issued, are forfeited, effective December 5, 2019. Award tickets obtained through fraud, misrepresentation or violation of AAdvantage terms and conditions and / or conditions of carriage are not valid for travel. These tickets have been canceled and you will need to make other arrangements for any future travel plans. “
The problem with all of this
Looking at this, I see reports that some people are saying their accounts have been closed for ‘nothing’. Here’s the thing – over the years I have received countless emails from people asking for advice on closing an account.
Without exception, whenever the person claims to be 100% innocent. If I engage with them, it usually becomes quite quickly apparent that there is more to tell.
Conversely, honestly, I don’t understand why I don’t get more emails from people saying “I fucked up, what would you do?” because I feel like I could give better advice there.
What I’m saying is, yeah, I think American is closing quite a few AAdvantage accounts. I think most of them have every right to do so. It seems they are closing the accounts of people who have:
- AAdvantage accounts opened for people who do not exist
- Codes used not intended for people listed on mailers
- In many cases, it appears that people have in turn sold or traded the miles they earned this way.
So that brings me to the question, has anyone seen their AAdvantage account closed without doing any of the above?
American business security loves when people revolt
I will say that I have repeatedly seen data points that US Business Security is more forgiving of people who admit what they did, rather than denying that they did.
In the past, I’ve seen data points from people who had closed their AAdvantage accounts, but then got another chance when they admitted what they had done. Conversely, I have rarely seen positive data points from people who totally deny what they have done. This contrasts with some other airlines.
At least that’s the case historically – Americans seem to be really mad at this situation, and I’m not sure it will save anyone here.
At the end of the line
As with any “loophole” like this, there are people involved at all kinds of different levels. Some people may only have done it once at a friend’s suggestion, and some people may have registered a spouse or family member this way, not even knowing their account was being used that way. .
It seems Americans are now cracking down on everyone, including shutting down AAdvantage accounts and canceling tickets issued with them.
Let me say this: I have been playing the points game since I was 14 years old. I have no doubt been caught up in certain things over the years, at least when I was younger. But over the years, I’ve learned that it’s always best to play by the rules. You might get away with things in the short term, but in the long term you will be “stuck” more often. And that’s especially true when you’re scaling something to that extent.
If nothing else, this is all a good reminder of the risks if you choose not to play by the rules.
So yeah, that’s my take on it all.
Has anyone who hasn’t done any of the above received an account closure notice, or anything? What do you think of this whole situation?