AA Shutdown My Account – Forget What We Thought We Knew

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American Airlines Shutdown My Account

American Airlines Shutdown My Account – Some New Data Points

AA shutdown my American Airlines AAdvantage account this week (and my wife’s 1 minute prior to mine). Despite all of what you’ve heard or think you know, I believe there’s something new happening here. I think American Airlines has upped its game and changed tactics. I also want to talk about how it happened and what’s happening now, so anyone in a similar situation can start thinking about Plan B. While there has been no shortage of posts about American Airlines shutdowns on numerous sites, I think there’s something novel here that might give pause to some people in 2-player mode.

Quick Recap On AA Shutdown

We mentioned American Airlines AAdvantage shutdowns a few times previously. The events: Around mid-December 2019, American Airlines started locking people’s frequent flyer accounts. There were suspicions and rumors. The data led to people being locked who’d had numerous welcome offer bonuses in their AAdvantage accounts during 2018-2019. We’re pretty sure all the data was related to Citi bonuses.

American Airlines really strung this out for a while, and Shawn mentioned that leaving people on the hook for weeks/months was not cool. Numerous people showed up to the airport clueless as to whether they’d actually get to board their flights while locked. Some could and some couldn’t. That’s not a good way to treat people, regardless of how you feel about these shutdowns.

American Airlines Shutdown My Account

AA Changes Tactics

Let’s call it very likely at this point that American Airlines employees created accounts and started reading Reddit. As people posted data points about how to find out if your account was locked, everything changed. I’ve got to hand it to American Airlines that they were doing this. The only real way to know became either receiving an AA shutdown email or attempting to book an award ticket that just never confirmed.

My Wife Got Frozen

Now that we are up to speed, let’s talk about what happened to my wife and I. My wife’s AAdvantage account was frozen…best guess…first week of January. I say “best guess” because we’ll never know. She booked an award ticket in late December, and the ticket was issued/confirmed. Around January 10-ish, we tried to book another award ticket for her. It never confirmed. After 5 days, we called. The phone rep said it wasn’t confirming because the account was “being audited”. The phone rep said she’d spoken to the relevant department asking if they’ll contact us to clear this up so the ticket can be booked. The rep seemed unaware that this was happening to more accounts than just my wife’s. I say that because it sounded like the rep thought this would be solved in a few hours.

With my wife’s account frozen, I assumed mine would be soon. Why? We have the same address, and I was listed as the co-passenger (including my AAdvantage account #) on some of her upcoming award tickets. Also, our account activity was pretty similar. Let’s just assume any company doing audits and shutdowns will at least take a glance at the account of the 2nd passenger during this process.

American Airlines Shutdown My Account

Why My AA Shutdown Highlights a New Trend

Knowing that the clock was probably ticking on my account, my wife and I had a talk. With our work commitments, her school, our dog needing walked during the middle of the day…when was the earliest I could take a trip and try to use up my miles? The time we chose on the calendar was this weekend.

I spent several hours looking for routing, flights I wanted to take with AAdvantage miles while I had the chance, etc. I went for several things on my previous post about AA sweet spots. Flights were booked and confirmed my flights for this weekend. In fact, the final flight in my planned trip was booked and confirmed just 4 days prior to the shutdown. Yes, 4 days before shutdown I confirmed and ticketed an award flight on my account.

Why am I harping on 4 days? Everything we thought we knew about these shutdowns was like this: lock/freeze for over a month, then get AA shutdown email. Most people waited weeks and months as “frozen” and wondering if they could board upcoming flights. In 4 days, my account went from working normally to shut down. That’s a new twist.

And they didn’t just seize bonuses, which I could understand in this situation. However, they’re seizing points people earned from flying on cash fares, daily credit card spend, retention offers from Barclays, etc. (Joe even talked about some of the crazier data points in the latest podcast) that aren’t related to these bonuses they’re upset about. I think this hobby is one giant “use the loophole”, and my wife and I were shutdown for using a loophole. In the process, we lost what anyone would consider valid American Airlines miles. There’s a legitimate axe to grind on those things, but that’s a different post.

AA shutdown email
AA shutdown email. Other than changing dates and account number, the email to everyone is exactly the same.

Is American Airlines Changing Tactics Again?

I believe American Airlines is changing tactics again. Since my shutdown this week, I’ve seen new data points on others who were never frozen being shutdown immediately without the freeze period we thought was standard. This is still the less common path to shutdown, but it’s an emerging trend. I’m not trying to scare you, but I think it’s important to note that what we thought we knew might no longer be true. There are a few possibilities at play here to flesh out. The reason why I’m talking about this (even knowing the barrage of hateful comments coming) is because of how many people in this hobby have a “player 2”. Here are some things to think about:

Theory 1: Questionable associated accounts are shut down at the same time, “guilty by association”.

My first theory is that while auditing my wife’s account during the frozen period, they considered any associated accounts. Things like joint passengers or same address. When my wife’s AA shutdown clock struck midnight, they axed anything they felt should be taken out together. Thus, our emails came 1 minute apart. I was axed jointly with my wife without the typical freeze/review period because her time had come and we were associated + I checked some of the boxes they were looking for.

Theory 2: Avoid letting people use their miles if they’re on the “accounts to be reviewed” list.

My 2nd theory is that American Airlines is looking at accounts where anyone fits a certain description. We know “multiple bonuses” is one of those, but I won’t do their homework for them here by suggesting other ideas. Among other factors they add in, let’s assume my account was on the list “to be audited”. They noticed it was close to the departure date on my flights and they axed my account. They were planning on locking me and doing the normal review, but time was short. Straight to AA shutdown. Don’t pass go, don’t collect $200. This avoids letting anyone on the “to be reviewed soon” list from taking more trips. I’ve been getting “flight cancelled” and “taxes refunded” emails exactly 4 days prior to take-off time on upcoming flights. To the minute. They intervened to avoid more award trips on accounts they planned to close anyway.

Or Something Else Entirely

There could be something else. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. However, my data point of not being frozen and getting the AA shutdown email 1 minute after my wife got hers gives me pause. I can’t help but feel they’re connected if signed by the same employ and coming at the same time. If you have a spouse, sibling, or other “player 2” in this hobby, I hope you will think about this. If you’re currently locked and the P2 isn’t (or vice versa), it might be time to consider the “guilty by association” theory. Maybe 1 of the 2 of you isn’t frozen now, but my experience says that might not matter. There’s no knowing for sure, but think about it.

American Airlines Shutdown My Account

The Data Points For 2 AA Shutdowns

For those who are going to ask for the data, I have no problem sharing. Here’s a recap.

Me
  • 2018 – 2 Citi AAdvantage bonuses, both business cards for separate businesses
  • 2019 – 3 Citi AAdvantage bonuses (all personal cards) and a Barclays business bonus, plus retention offers on some cards
  • Points lost – 280k between points in the account and canceled bookings
  • Upcoming bookings canceled – 5
  • Mailer codes used – 2
  • Age of AAdvantage account – 25+ years
  • Elite status – none
My Wife
  • 2018 – 2 Citi AAdvantage bonuses, both business cards for separate businesses
  • 2019 – 3 Citi AAdvantage bonuses (all personal cards) and a Barclays personal bonus, plus retention offers on some cards
  • Points lost – 330k between points in the account and canceled bookings
  • Upcoming bookings canceled – 3
  • Mailer codes used – 2
  • Age of AAdvantage account – 6 years
  • Elite status – none

We had no American Airlines welcome offers from credit cards prior to 2018.

Final Thoughts On AA Shutdowns

I’m well aware of the animosity this topic has generated. Despite that, I’m sharing my experience to help others who should consider “what if?” at this point. If you’re in 2 player mode and 1 person is affected, it’s probably time for a talk. Maybe the other person has never had a Citi bonus from a referral code, and you think that account is squeaky clean. That’s awesome. If either of my theories applies to you, I hope some thinking and planning are on your “to do” list. I hope a solid Plan B is in the works for your upcoming trips.

I don’t think anyone in the AA shutdown group is looking for sympathy. The purpose of this post is to point out that what we thought we knew (4-6 weeks of freeze, then get American Airlines shutdown email and flights canceled/refund of taxes) seems to not be true. Prior to this week, there weren’t data points of people being closed down without being frozen first. Something is different now, and since my AAdvantage shutdown email arrived this week, other “I wasn’t frozen” data points are starting to emerge. I hope knowing this might help someone.

Ryan Smith
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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147 COMMENTS

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147 COMMENTS

  1. I had my account closed and I only used ones that were addressed to me. I don’t see how it’s my fault. They sent me at least a dozen applications over a period of years. I opened the card, got the bonus, and closed the card. They kept sending me more applications. Now I’m the one who violated their terms? This sucks. I wish there was a way to remedy this situation.

    • Robert – I recommend consulting an attorney if you only used approved offers specifically sent to you. That’s messed up. Don’t just roll over on AA doing this.

  2. Ryan,
    Do you know if there is any reports of shutdowns for canceling a american executive card after getting a sign up bonus and after the annual fee posts (getting fee refunded)? I’m about to do this and was looking around but no info on this. I honestly was not going to cancel it and was looking forward to using the lounge, but I found out Charlotte got an amex lounge right after I got it, and then well the pandemic, so not gonna be flying much, lol.

    • You’ve had the card for a year right? I haven’t heard any data on this one way or another, to be honest. I’d think you’re OK if everything else on your account seems clean.

      • Hi Ryan,
        many thanks for post this issue, I have same issue as you. I have citi card and cancelled my card on March 2020, just find out my AAdvantage account (have over 300K mileage balance) locked out and my husband AAdvantage account was shout down by aa. I was trying to call them several times but its never resolved. it said they were send me a email that i need follow because for both of my and husband account for the security reason but i never received the email. did you get you account and your wife account back to open and mileage back ?

        • No, unfortunately AA sent us ridiculous emails with no details at all. We didn’t have anything to “follow” like you, so I don’t have any advice on that. Sorry :/

  3. Ryan, ValueAct Capital Partners is an activist investor with a large stake in Citigroup. Make them investigate why Citi isn’t recouping millions of dollars from AA (value of forfeited miles which were paid for by Citi). This ought to make AA Corp Sec rethink about defrauding Citi. If they’d have to refund Citi, they can’t simply write off the amount from their balance-sheet.

      • Thank you! They’ve an information-sharing agreement with Citi, which enables them to question its dealings. I hope they’ll act on our inputs. They had ousted Steve Ballmer from Microsoft. I hope to see some action from them, although it might ultimately result in Citi formally shutting down the mailer loophole.

  4. I was shutdown a week or two ago mid-trip. My whole family was in Central America and our return flight was with AA miles from a shutdown account.

    AA had the decency not to cancel that return trip but did cancel an asia trip that was scheduled for two weeks later.

    They also shutdown P2. I didn’t check the times on the emails but they were received the same morning

    • Wow, surprised to hear they sent a shutdown email but left flights home intact. that’s the first I’ve heard of that. Was it a round-trip and so they knew you’d already flown out? Or were they separate 1-way bookings?

  5. I think the biggest bonuses will go to the RAT people (and those won’t be clawed back). You have to admit they have been very productive, and AA is getting a lot of bang for their buck. It must be interesting coming up with new ways to seek out undesired activities. Look for the RATs to multiply, and other program must be watching.

    It is in AA’s interest NOT to explain ANYTHING. Then people will be concerned about EVERYTHING, which is good for AA.

  6. AA sells the miles to the card companies. People apply for the cards, do the spend requirement and get the offered bonus miles. That’s the deal. The fact that people were able to sign up for multiple cards & get multiple bonuses should not be blamed on the card user. NJ Lottery from time to time will have a free scratch off ticket offer in various Sunday papers. In the past I have purchased an extra paper (given to someone else to read), taken out the free lottery ticket coupon and used it. Am I “exploiting” the coupon offer? Airline programs & card companies should make it very clear that card applicants can only get one card sign-up bonus per account or year. Make it large boldface type. That said, I did think that one of these days the FF programs would start cracking down on those that play the game of getting new card bonus miles. Game over !

  7. I keep reading bits and pieces from people who got shut down by AA. It all seems tied to the mailers (using someone else’s mailer specifically) even if just one or two times. I’m sure other activities like churning don’t help the case when they start looking into an account but I’m starting to wonder if the mailers got sent out as a way to test people cheating the system. Imagine this a RAT like team intentionally tracks a typical marketing mailer program to see if the codes are used by people not targeted. This gives them a target list of accounts to check or audit. This takes time so the accounts are frozen while they look through them and either delete them or allow them to continue, likely flagged if so. There may be other factors like elite status, etc. Then a person like you “calls the airline” (you know the cardinal sin of the miles game) and that threw an extra red flag at the account so it went to the top of the stack and got shut down in 4 days along with any accounts tied to that address or passenger that also did mailers. Just theory or course but I could imagine it that way. Gosh I miss the old US Air Grand Slam game instead.

    • A few problems with this theory:
      1-these mailers existed for YEARS before the shutdowns started
      2-I didn’t call the airline about this
      3-the mailers were for cards from Citi, but the shutdowns were initiated by AA

  8. Ryan, had more than 50% of your cumulatively earned AAdvantage miles been generated from Sign up bonuses? Also, had you ever sock-drawered any of your AAdvantage cards?

  9. I still don’t understand why AA is the one taking miles away since these miles people earned through Citi and Barclay bonus. I can understand they can close your account but not taking away your miles unless as the request of Citi or Barclay.

  10. Ryan,

    I just wonder about people who got to the airport and their flight was cancelled, did they already have the boarding pass or check in? Does AA still do this practice?

    I never thought you can apply Citi credit card for more than one in a year.

    • Haven’t heard of anyone getting a boarding pass/checking in then not being able to board the flight, so I’m not sure.
      You can get more than one Citi credit card in a year, I’m not sure what you’re referencing on that.

      • One time I applied for the second Citi card (not AAdvantage) and was told I already has one with them. Recently, I thought you only can have one kind of Citi AAdvantage and you only can apply for another after 18 months (now 48 months) since the date you closed account.

  11. What I don’t get, they’ve issued those bonuses. Are there any rules in the T&C that say you can only get one bonus? Isn’t it up to AA to make sure that nobody receives bonuses they’re not entitled to at the moment they issue them? If they made an error handing out to many points there customers shouldn’t be the victims of this.

    • That’s why a note from AA explaining what’s going on here would be helpful. What’s the logic? Why shutdown instead of just revoking points? Why are they now claiming that something they did previously was wrong? Why is it our fault they did this? Etc. Explaining the logic would really help restore confidence in their company from people on the periphery of this.

      • I am so confused. All of these websites, this one included tells its readers how to get more miles/bonus for “free” travel… and now your saying that AA doesn’t like this behavior and is just takes the mikes back and then kills your account too boot.

        • Sean – this situation is a little more complex than your comment describes. What’s the confusion you mentioned?

          • How about a very simple to follow: do not do this. here is what is going to get you in trouble.

            Everyone reads, get this card… then this card and so on and goes and does it. Then there is a chance the airlines do not like it and can you? That is mighty crazy.

          • You’re implying that we had posts detailing what I was doing to earn AA miles and telling people to do the same and then now I need to tell people not to do that? All of your assumptions in your comments are wrong. I think you’ve fundamentally misunderstood this post and assumed a bunch of posts prior to it exist that don’t exist.

  12. I am sorry for anyone/ everyone that lost their miles. I do not understand some of the hateful remarks & gleeful attitudes. Why are you on this website? Who is above reproach?

  13. Anyone know when the current deals between AA and Cit and Barclaycard US expire? Original press releases and SEC filings do not appear to specify. Would this problem annoy AA enough to move more business to Barclays the next time these contracts are up?

    • Are you aware that the banks issuing these credit cards think we are all cheaters/gaming the system? Seems like an odd position to take, but thanks for reading.

  14. This is not the first case of a P2 who’s been shut down without being locked. There have been several noted on Reddit. They’re always connected to a P1 who was locked, then they both get shut down. Often the P2 doesn’t even meet the threshold of bonuses that AA has decided they don’t like.

    • Not the first, correct (I’ve found 3 total prior to last week, which is a fraction of a %). The number of them sharply increased as of last week.

    • The data so far seems to revolve around years 2018-2019, but I’m curious about how far back this will go as they continue to work through the data. Honestly, anything could happen at this point and none of it would surprise me.

  15. Ryan, this whole article seems kinda lazy. I am making an assumption here that I am willing to bet is correct – that you and/or Shawn promoted in some manner the same activities that just got you shut down. Maybe not on a blog, but in-person, smaller group-chats, at conferences, etc. in order to grow your credibility and blogging business.

    You are part of the cause, but what is worse is the assumption you made that people aren’t expecting sympathy and should roll over, die, and take it. In the comments, you mentioned you couldn’t even be bothered to file a DOT complaint and you clearly tried to make a case that this is merely loophole maneuvering rather than abuse – so don’t take the abuse from them!

    • Spending hours combing through data to understand what’s happening doesn’t seem lazy, so I disagree. Also, I don’t understand what point you’re trying to make in your comment at all. Also, I didn’t say I wasn’t filing a DOT comment. I specifically said doing so is on my “to do” list.

      • OK, I am going to take back most of what I said. I respect the fight you are putting into this as referenced by your Mar 5, 2020 post, and the lack of gratitude you are receiving in some of the comments there.

        I don’t like when bloggers encourage ideas like the grAAvy train, then hide when things go wrong. You are not hiding.

  16. I keep on hearing that AA doesn’t make money flying people and that their revenues comes from selling miles.

    If this holds water, then they are going after those with mailers? It’s all about money and their tanking stock. They don’t want to be giving away free miles, especially when this is their money maker?

    • Funny part is Citi has to buy those miles to give to us, then AA confiscates them. At some point, Citi will care about this loss of $ on their end.

      • Citi is managed very poorly. Besides, if a Citi executive’s AA golf-buddy can get his kids into Stanford, he’d probably turn a blind eye towards the issue until he’d be forced to investigate

  17. RE: Fraud
    I’m no lawyer (thank you Jesus), but I think a logjam to charging criminal fraud in connection with airline mileage programs means assigning a dollar value to the value of miles

    • Airlines want to claim the miles have value when they send us 1099s but don’t have value when we complain they took something from us. Funny how that works. Good point 🙂

  18. You were not really egregious. Even though you used someone else’s mailer which is downright fraud i think you may have still skirted by.

    I think there were some people that did 10s of mailers that brought attention to this. Loopholes are fine if you do one or two. But some greedy assholes ruin it for everyone. They have to go get everything for themselves. Can’t take a little leave some for others. Hope the judge nails their hide to the jail cell. Someone needs to get a massive kick in this hobby. I am talking serious jail time for fraud and people might come to their senses.

    • Using a mailer that has no terms that say it is non transferable is fraud? Sounds like it was following the rules to me. Fraud would be applying in someone else’s name not your own name which didn’t happen. People really don’t seem to understand what fraud is.

      • An invitation from a company addressed specifically to a person does not have to state that it is non-transferable. The invitation is for that person unless it specifically states that is is transferable (current resident, or give it to a friend, etc) which is why mailers state that.

        So if you used a mailer addressed to another person, you have committed theft by deception since you didn’t get the consent of the person and the company.

        • I disagree, and I’d wager that many courts would say that not saying “non-transferable” implies legal permission, and that the onus is on the company to state “non-transferable”.

        • Amber, in most cases the recipient of the mailer knowingly gave the mailer to another person to use. So it is not theft. The reason some mail pieces say “current resident” is so other people can OPEN it, not to enable others to USE it.

          • To be clear, MrDioji – are you claiming that mail that comes to me “current resident” and includes a $10 off coupon for Wal-Mart can’t be given to a friend who doesn’t live with me? I was confused by your comment.

        • Amber they also had mailers that DID say not transferable so why carry both if they didn’t intend them to be shared? And everyone received permission from the person on the mailer since it wasn’t like people were going around town stealing people’s mail.

          Deception or theft would have been using a mailer and applying under their name and then adding your AA frequent flyer number. When you apply using your own social security number, credit profile etc. I just don’t see where the deception is. Especially when the terms allowed it.

  19. if one’s account is locked, should she change her AA account’s address (maybe to her investment property address?) to avoid her househould’s other accounts get affected too?

    On the other hand, when she files on small claim court, her AA account’s new address would be inconsistent with her home address.. would that be a problem?

  20. Ryan, I am not sure calling this “guilty by association” is accurate.
    Your account was shut down (without being locked first) right after your wife’s was shut down – This only means that “both of your accounts were review at the same time” likely by the same person, and the reviewer (probably by Riley, Toby, Blake or whoever) decided that both of your accounts should be suspended. I think you are “charged” by association, not “convicted” by association. You are guilty because you met whatever criteria they set (for example, more than N credit card bonuses in 2018 2019, if our hypothesis is correct), not because you’re associated with your wife.
    In other words, I don’t think you will be shut down if you only have, say, one bonus from Citi in 2018-2019, even if you’re associated with your wife.

    Therefore I honestly don’t think anything is changing. It sounds exactly like what’s been happening, and “charged by association” (or “reviewed”, “audited” whatever you want to call it) isn’t really a new thing either, it’s just common sense like you said.
    Your account probably just slipped through the cracks that it wasn’t locked before shut down.

    FWIW, I’m in 3 players mode. We all received the shutdown e-mail from Blake within 10 minutes (6:11am, 6:13am and 6:17am). All three of us had more than 10 SUB in 2018-2019.

  21. It’s really not surprising that cancellation for abuse has only recently appeared on the scene. I think exploiting the so-called “loopholes” is a result of the greed factor. It taxes credulity to rationalize the use of a mailer addressed to another person as a “loophole”. Conscience enters the scene and must be heeded, when doing something very tempting that just doesn’t feel right. Flagrant abuse will eventually harm those, too, who play by the rules. Too, the proliferation of websites that hype the cards for $$ commissions have to share some of the blame.

  22. Ryan – for those that did not use mailers and who just started to collect AA miles, is the current assumption that if you get four Citi AA sign up bonuses, that you will be shut down? Currently people can sign up for four cards and get four bonuses (Platinum, Executive, Mileup, Business). These are all attainable from public links and can all be had within a year.

    • There are 4 Citi AAdvantage cards (Personal & Business variants of Platinum Select & Executive) that can get you 4 SUBs, each worth 60k miles or more. Then there’s Barclays.

  23. I have been getting and closing both Citi and Barclays personal and business credit cards for years for the bonuses. IT IS A VERY GOOD THING I WAS NEVER AWARE OF THE MAILERS OR I WOULD HAVE CERTAINLY DONE THAT AS WELL. My wife and I have made good use of our AA miles over the years with many business class trips. In fact, we have one scheduled for Japan in April. I feel sorry for everyone caught up in this. We do try to space our cards out though. My wife has 60,000 AA miles left in her account and I have 235,000. I was thinking of adding to these totals with Citi cards, but I believe I might lay off just a bit. I just got the 100,000 Chase United business offer and completed the $10,000 so maybe I will get my wife one of these cards as well, then go back to AA. Good luck guys…..lifetime lockouts would kill me!

  24. So Mark you are saying that people who just got bonuses on the schedule that Citi was willing to give them are a small percentage of the shut downs? My husband and I have some Citi AA cards I was planning on closing soon to avoid the annual fee. Am I better off paying the fee, hoping to avoid losing several hundred thousand miles? Also was thinking of downgrading to no annual fee card, but does that just put eyes on the account? Should we be putting spending on these cards? I’ve basically only spent to get the bonus. What is the safe strategy? What are you doing?

    • Retention offers or buying miles or closing cards etc. seem to have no bearing on the situation. The common thread is 3+ Citi bonuses over 2018-2019. The rest is conjecture and best guesses.

      • Is this 3+ Citi bonuses for each year, 2018, and 2019, or 3+ Citi bonuses over the entire space of two years, 2018-2019?

        Also what if you got one Citi bonus in 2018, one in 2019, and Barclays in 2019? That’s my situation.

        • 3 total, not 3 per year. Your 2 + Barclays situation is where many people are on the “am I next on the chopping block?” fear, and so far you should be OK if not connected to a frozen account. “For now” since we don’t know where this all ends.

          • Yikes, ok. I was about to complete another Barclays MSR but I will wait for now. Too bad it would have been another 65k miles, for a “legally” acquired card.

          • Hopefully, but remember that I booked a ticket and then was shut down 4 days later, so that doesn’t guarantee anything. However, if you didn’t get multiple bonuses from Citi in the past 2 years, you’re probably OK.

    • I don’t think closing or product changing cards really matter since this is coming from AA and not from Citi. So I would do whatever you were planning on doing anyway. Shouldn’t change things one way or another honestly.