Airlines have audit/corporate security teams to ensure that people aren’t abusing their mileage programs. Historically, airlines have policed the selling of miles and upgrades to ensure that people who would pay cash for a ticket aren’t depriving the airline of revenue by purchasing miles from someone.
American’s AAdvantage audit team has long been the most ferocious about account shutdowns, at a significantly higher rate than other airlines. Back in the day when George Bartulevicz was their primary auditor he was known as Barto or the Darth Vador of frequent flyer miles. Since then the AAdvantage audit team has expanded.
As the audit team grew, the mission expanded from mileage sales and mileage brokering to other types of schemes, including getting mileage credit for other people’s flights, opening an AA card to get a signup bonus and then refunding the purchases, and circumventing credit card 48 month signup rules by using credit card mailers sent to different people to apply for cards.
The audit department justifies their existence by wiping miles off of American’s balance sheets.
But as people have stopped booking award tickets and as times get tough for the airlines, the audit team needs to prove that they can continue to justify their existence. That means digging deeper to find program abuses.
When you rent a car you get a token amount of miles. If you don’t claim the miles when you rent the car you can claim them afterward by just entering a mileage number.
For many years people who weren’t careful and let their mileage expire have used past car rental receipts to reactivate their miles.
In other words if your last mileage activity was 1/1/18 and your miles expire on 7/1/19, you could reactivate them by requesting mileage credit for a car rental make in June 2019. That credit would retroactively unexpire all of your miles.
If you didn’t have a car rental, there were people who did and they could put down your mileage number to get you mileage credit for their car rental. Or you were able to do that for another family member. There has never been any backlash for doing this.
American is now shutting down the mileage accounts for people who did this without any warning.
Many bloggers have reported that this required doctoring the receipt, using a bogus receipt, or using photoshop to change the name on the receipt. This is nonsense and utter #FakeNews.
All that was required was submitting a mileage number along with a past receipt or just clicking receive frequent flyer miles and entering a number. There was no doctoring of faking anything involved.
A DansDeals reader shares their letter that they got from American on 4/21, notifying that their account was being terminated due to getting mileage credit in this manner (Click to enlarge):
A couple of other readers have also shared that they had their accounts terminated this week for the “rents a car” reason as well.
Airlines have long justified terminating accounts as people that sold miles cost the airlines revenue.
American subsidizes the cost of a credit card signup bonus, so they also justified shutting credit card mailer abusers down as that cost them money as well.
In this case, there was no revenue being lost as the car rental company still paid American for the miles. It’s just a pure cash grab by using this as an excuse to confiscate miles to justify the continued existence of an audit team when people aren’t redeeming or brokering awards.
I’m not saying that people who did this are innocent, but terminating accounts for this without warning is egregious behavior from American Airlines.
It’s also a wake up call that people need to be more careful than ever to make sure that everything they do is on the up and up, as at least American’s auditors are becoming more vicious on what merits an account shutdown.
Ironically, shutting down accounts like these will likely cost American money in the long-term. These were people who participated in the AAdvantage program, which is a money-maker for American.
By telling them that they are banned for life without warning, American is depriving themselves of the long-term revenue they would have made from the relationship. These weren’t members that were depriving the airline of revenue as mileage sellers and brokers do.
That kind of short-term thinking is emblematic of why airlines are in the trouble they find themselves in today.
On Tuesday I wrote about American taking $5.8 billion in bailout funds and turning around to raise basic economy transatlantic checked bag fees to $150 for the first checked bag. American is continuing down a path where they may cost themselves more loyalty than they can afford to lose.
Have you ever had a mileage account terminated? Which airline and what did you do?