Last year I wrote about AA shutting down accounts for creating multiple or dummy AA accounts in order to generate credit card mailers that didn’t have limits on how often you could get a signup bonus.
Historically, American has had the most vicious mileage auditors. If you sell your miles or upgrades, especially via a broker, there’s a good chance that AA will catch up with you and ban you from AAdvantage for life.
Earlier this year they shut down accounts of people who kept their miles alive via other people’s rental car receipts.
American rarely makes mistakes when they shut down accounts. Many readers have emailed me over the years about shutdowns, but in all cases they did violate the rules. Sometimes fessing up is enough to get an account reinstated, but typically it will stay closed.
When most people file a DoT complaint they use the informal complaint process. That triggers a review from a higher level airline agent than you would normally reach.
But there is another complaint avenue via a long-form formal complaint. Airlines have lawyers that respond to these formal complaints and the complaints are made public.
She wrote that she used 290,000 miles for her daughter and son-in-law to fly from Miami to Maui in business class on 7/2/20. Other family members were booked on the same flight. After flight schedule changes, the family got booked on separate flights. As flights were now available for fewer miles using AA Web Special pricing, the son-in-law tried redepositing the miles in order to rebook the tickets.
Maria reveals that she voluntarily closed her AAdvantage account back in January due to “Security concerns” and that her son-in-law tried to have the miles redeposited into a new AAdvantage account. That’s a manual process that requires lots of eyes on the account and AA shut down her new account and cancelled the tickets.
She asks the DOT to order AA to return the miles and to penalize AA for their actions.
In it, they show just how much information they know about accounts that they shut down. AA paints a snarky and vivid picture of what happened and while some of what they respond is not factually correct, it’s still damning.
AA clearly doesn’t believe Maria is the real complainant.
“The masterminds behind this scheme appear to be the Complainant’s son-in-law and daughter, i.e., her co-fraudsters, who also violated the AAdvantage Terms…When American discovered the son-in-law’s and daughter’s fraud, it froze and then terminated their AAdvantage accounts, including several bogus AAdvantage accounts they established using fake information.”
Maria’s son-in-law and daughter are identified as known parties to the DoT as they previously filed informal complaints after their own AAdvantage accounts were shut down.
The footnotes are just as entertaining. “Like a game of whack-a-mole, the son-in-law thereafter opened yet another AAdvantage account using a phony name, which American then terminated promptly upon detection.”
AA notes that after they terminated Maria’s son-in-law’s account, she (“an email purporting to be sent by the Complainant”) requested that her account be closed.
“Unhappy that American detected and put the kibosh on the scheme, the Complainant now attempts to leverage the Department’s third-party formal complaint procedures to reinstate fraudulently accrued miles from a voluntarily terminated frequent flyer account.”
Maria later opened another AAdvantage account, to which AA sensibly notes “American maintains that the Complainant or her co-fraudsters, sensing the jig was up, changed her AAdvantage account to avoid detection by American’s corporate security department.”
Things get murkier in the next sections. American claims that Citi’s terms require waiting 48 months to get a new signup bonus, but those terms can vary based on the application language.
American says, “A small number of individuals acting in bad faith obtained invitations not intended for them– either by establishing multiple, bogus AAdvantage Accounts or getting their hands on mailers or emails addressed to third parties. Once the individual had the invitation and unique code, he or she would apply and change information during the Citi Card application process to match his or her actual identity and AAdvantage account, which otherwise would not have been eligible for a New Account Mileage Bonus. Disclosures, including those provided when accessing the online application via aa.com (as will be demonstrated in Section III, infra), clearly notified prospective applicants that only new Citi Card account holders were eligible for the New Account Mileage Bonuses.”
Granted that some people did act in bad faith to get mailers without language that required a 48 month wait, but it’s a big stretch to say that terms listed online should also apply to the mailers. And AA said earlier that bonuses could be earned every 24 or 48 months, but here they say it’s only for new account holders, which contradicts that position.
AA then cites websites like Flyertalk and Reddit where people shared tips on avoiding being audited. AA writes that these postings led them to investigate the issue and shutdown accounts.
That has little to do with this case, but I see it as a warning to others online that AA is watching them.
AA notes that the email address used to ask American to close Maria’s account is a combination of the son-in-law’s and daughter’s names and is the same email used by the daughter, but with dot aliasing.
AA reveals that Maria, her daughter, and son-in-law opened 45 Citi AA cards over 4 years and that their household opened 54 cards. Whether that’s fraudulent is open to debate, but AA makes the case that it is.
But worse for them is that the 3 of them opened 16 AAdvantage accounts in order to trigger more credit card mailers. AA only allows people to participate in offers with 1 account. This is all AA needs to win the case and avoid DOT enforcement action, but AA decided to go much deeper than this.
AA also notes that “Several of the bogus AAdvantage accounts associated with the Complainant’s son-in-law and daughter were intentionally opened under patently false first names, including “Bubbles.””
AA shut down the son-in-law’s account for fraud on 12/10/19. Maria redeemed all of the miles in her account on 12/18/19 to send her daughter and son-in-law to Maui. On 1/4/20 Maria asked AA for her account to be closed. On 1/8/20 AA shut down her daughter’s account for fraud. On 1/22/20, Maria opened a new AA account and opened another credit card and got another signup bonus.
Incredibly, that scheme seems to have worked and AA didn’t shut down her account.
But then COVID-19 hit and flight schedules were changed. The son-in-law practiced some good old HUCA and called AA 19 times to try to get the miles from that trip redeposited into Maria’s new account. Eventually that put eyes on her account and unsurprisingly, AA shut it down and voided the tickets.
AA also calls out the son-in-law and daughter as falsely filing a complaint in Maria’s name, “American has described in this Answer a number of inconsistencies between information asserted in the Complaint and information contained in American’s records. To maintain the integrity of the Department’s important procedural requirements, American respectfully requests that the Department promptly direct the Complainant to re-submit a copy of the Complaint dated April 30, 2020, with the signed verification required attached thereto.”
It seems to me that this “shock and awe” response is a warning shot from AA. File a formal complaint against us and we’ll do a deep dive into your misdeeds and air them out to the public. Complainers beware!