American Airlines Explains Why It Shut Down Accounts
Earlier this year American Airlines shut down AAdvantage accounts for many people. This affected people who were getting a lot of credit card welcome offers through Citi. While we know most of the details already on what triggered these shutdowns, we now have some interesting information on what American Airlines knows about its customers and how they were able to identify some of the people that they ended up shutting down.
The information comes a reply by American Airlines to a complaint that was filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation. The complainant was Maria Borges whose account(s) were shut down and miles were taken away. American Airlines shows in great detail what the complainant and two family members did. It gives a clear picture of the data that companies have, if they bother to look for it.
American Airlines’ Answer to Ms. Borges Complaint
In it reply to the complaint that was filed by Maria Borges, American Airlines says that the complainant’s AAdvantage account was used in an elaborate scheme involving misrepresentations to create bogus accounts in the AAdvantage Program for the purpose of fraudulently obtaining bonus miles.
Complainant and such individuals used various means of manipulation over a span of 20 months to improperly obtain bonus miles, to which they were not entitled, for deposit into multiple AAdvantage accounts. This was done by (i) using false information when opening AAdvantage accounts to conceal the individual’s true identity and evade detection by American, thereby triggering invitation-only application mailers for co-branded Citi/AAdvantage credit cards containing bonus mile incentives for new Citi Card account holders, (ii) obtaining application mailers addressed to other individuals and (iii) changing name, address and AAdvantage account information during the Citi Card online application process to ensure the ill-gotten bonus miles were deposited into the desired AAdvantage account.
American Airlines says that the masterminds behind the scheme were the Complainant’s son-in-law and daughter, who also violated the AAdvantage Terms by utilizing nearly identical means to improperly obtain bonus miles for deposit to additional AAdvantage accounts established under their names, but on a stunningly larger scale. American Airlines provides detailed information about accounts, what was said during calls, and actions taken by these people. Here’s an example described in the document:
In December 2019, almost the entire mileage balance in Complainant’s AAdvantage account (1LJ73H8) was redeemed for two premium class roundtrip tickets,
issued in the names the son-in-law and daughter. The next month, an email purporting to be sent by the Complainant mysteriously directed American to close Account 1LJ73H8. Several days later a new AAdvantage account (2AF9N50) was opened in the Complainant’s name, using a different email address and phone number than used for Account 1LJ73H8.
Following a schedule change, her son-in-law canceled the award tickets and repeatedly contacted American Reservations to have the miles redeposited into the Complainant’s “new” AAdvantage account, 2AF9N50, but was unsuccessful in those attempts because the Complainant had voluntarily closed Account 1LJ73H8. Shortly thereafter, American terminated the Complainant’s new AAdvantage account in accordance with the AAdvantage Terms.
“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” American Airlines says. The airline admits that “due to a technical issue”, some people were able to circumvent security protocols in place designed to prevent multiple bonuses within a certain timeframe. American Airlines describes this procedure as follows:
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.
Maria Borges admits that three Citi Cards accounts were opened in her name between May and November 2018, “but omits a fourth such account, opened in January 2020 and for which an additional New Account Mileage Bonus (50,000 miles) was improperly obtained,” the airline says. At least one of the Citi Card accounts was opened using a unique invitation code from a mailer addressed to another individual. American Airlines provides dates and numbers of accounts opened for her daughter and son-in-law as well.
Between the Complainant, her son-in-law and daughter, 45 Citi Card accounts were opened over a four-year period, entailing more than 1.4 million miles in New Account Mileage Bonuses. The 45 Citi Card accounts do not include an additional nine Citi Card accounts associated with the Complainant’s street address but established under names different than the Complainant, her son-in-law or daughter. Over a similar timeframe, a further 16 AAdvantage accounts were established by the three of them, with the same street address but under different names.
Companies Monitor Online Discussions
I’m sure we all suspected that credit card companies, airlines, and hotel chains could monitor discussions. In the answer, American Airlines shows just that as proof that the scheme existed.
The airline says that people we took part in this scheme, also bragged in online forums such as FlyerTalk and Reddit. The document has screenshots of FlyerTalk and Reddit threads about the scheme.
Ryan also suggested that that was happening after shutdown started, in one of his articles.
You can read the whole document here. It is long but it is an interesting look at the data that companies have about you. Obviosuly they know how many credit cards you have opened, but they can also connect accounts that use some of the same information such as phone numbers, addresses or when you try to redeposit miles into a different account. And yes, they do read FlyerTalk and Reddit and they can go back and listen to those recorded phone calls.
In this case I think the complainant doesn’t have much of a case. American Airlines shows proof that they provided incorrect information in order to open AAdvantage accounts, receive offers and apply for new credit cards.
But this is obviously a one sided story, and an easy case for the airline to fight. American Airlines goes after people that are clearly in the wrong here. But many other cases where accounts were shut down, were not this straightforward. American Airlines admits that “due to a technical issue”, some people were able to circumvent security protocols. Citi is the one that actually issued miles, and they continuously sent out mailers to customers with these offers. Many people received multiple offers, and they didn’t have any restrictions. Not everyone signed up their dog, or used another person’s mailer.
If you think you were shut down erroneously, then you should go ahead and file a complaint. Let us know if you were affected by this!