I’ve been thinking about this article and how to frame it for some time. It’s been one of the most controversial and anger-filled topics that I’ve seen on points-and-miles blogs and forums in my years of following closely. Ultimately, I wanted to provide my data point with details, in hopes that it’s of some help – or at least of some interest – to Middle Age Miles readers.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware that the American Airlines AAdvantage program has locked a number of members’ accounts, and in some cases terminated accounts entirely. This seemingly began in early-to-mid December. The terminations and lockdowns are apparently based on alleged violations of AAdvantage program rules by the members.
“Terminated” means exactly what it sounds like – the member’s AAdvantage account is closed, all AA miles are lost, all award tickets are canceled (whether on AA or another airline).
“Locked” is somewhat different. For a “locked” member, redemptions of AA miles are not possible through any channel (AA flights; partner flights; hotel bookings using AA miles; etc.). A “locked” member may be able to go through the process of making an award redemption, but the ticket will not issue. It may show “ticket pending” for a while and then vanish, or just remain as “pending” through take-off time with the passenger unable to fly on it. Aside from making award redemptions, a “locked” member’s account seems to function. For example, elite status benefits still seem to work, and the account continues to “earn” miles (although earning may all be for naught if the account is later terminated).
AAdvantage accounts have been terminated and locked without any notice from AA to the member, and without any advance warning. People who are terminated may have received an email message from AA Corporate Security informing them of the termination. Many people whose accounts are locked-but-not-terminated have not received any communication at all from AA, even though their accounts may have been locked for roughly a month.
There has been an astounding amount of commentary, vitriol, and gnashing of teeth over this issue on blogs and forums. Because AA has not told people why their accounts have been locked, speculation runs rampant. People have attempted to compile and analyze data from those impacted, with modest success at best.
That said, there seems to be a high probability that the terminations and lockdowns are associated with the account holder receiving multiple sign-up bonuses on AA co-branded cards from Citi. Behaviors that directly violate AAdvantage loyalty program terms, such as selling miles and creating false accounts, may also be involved in some cases. The main triggering cause seems to be members’ use of physical mailers or e-mailers from Citi to obtain multiple sign-up bonuses.
We want to issue a sincere and heartfelt apology to any Middle Age Miles readers who find themselves terminated or locked by AA as a result of our articles. We wrote about success using mailers to get Citi AA Platinum personal cards in two articles:
- Middle Age Miles: A Case Study and Success Story of Strategic Card Applications – Approved for Chase World of Hyatt & Citi AA Platinum Cards (October 25, 2018)
- Middle Age Miles: Citi AA Platinum – Approved Using Mailer with No 24-Month Language (May 23, 2019)
We are very sorry if you followed in our footsteps to apply for a Citi AA co-branded card with a mailer and now find your AAdvantage account terminated or locked as a result.
We do our dead-level best to not suggest that anyone do anything that violates program terms. We sincerely believed – and still do – that we did not violate any AA or Citi terms. Still, our strategy has led to negative consequences, and I remain at risk of losing all of the AA miles in my account, as well as a couple of award tickets previously booked for several months out. For others who are also in the position as a result of our articles, we apologize.
My Data Point – What Cards Did I Get, and When?
I’ll list all of the Citi co-branded cards that I’ve gotten within the past 10 years. Cards where my application was done with a mailer code are bolded, as those are probably the ones most relevant to the termination/lockdown analysis. On each card, I received a sign-up bonus in the range of 50-75,000 AA miles after meeting the minimum spend
- August 2016 – Citi AA Platinum (personal)
- I believe that I used a public link, perhaps a referral link
- After the annual fee posted, I converted the card to Citi AT&T Access More in September 2017, which remains open
- January 2017 – Barclays AA Aviator Red (personal)
- Used a public link, perhaps a referral
- Converted the card to Aviator Silver in June 2017
- Still hold this card and have put >$140k spend on it in the past 3 years total, including >$42k in 2019
- January 2017 – Citi AA Business
- Again, used a public link, perhaps a referral
- After the annual fee posted, I closed this card in February 2018
- January 2018 – Citi AA Platinum (personal)
- Applied using a physical mailer with a 9-digit code, addressed to one of the Middle Age Miles kids at our address
- Mailer and offer terms contained no restrictions on transfer
- The mailer did not contain any time restrictions on getting the sign-up bonus – in particular, it did not contain the restriction that appeared in Citi’s public offers that the applicant would be ineligible for a sign-up bonus if they had opened or closed a Citi AA co-branded personal card in the past 24 months
- I was able to edit the application to apply under my own name, social security number, and other details
- The application was approved by Citi
- After the annual fee posted, I converted this card to a Citi ThankYou Rewards+ card in February 2019
- January 2018 – Barclays AA Aviator Business
- Used a public link, perhaps a referral
- Still hold this card and put >$25k spend on it in 2019
- March 2018 – Citi AA Platinum (personal)
- Same as the Jan 2018 Citi AA Platinum card – used mailer addressed to a MAM kid; no transfer restrictions; no 24-month language; applied under my own name and SSN; application approved by Citi
- After the annual fee posted, I converted this card to a Citi AT&T Access card in May 2019, which I later converted to a Citi Double Cash card in September 2019
- October 2018 – Citi AA Platinum (personal)
- Same details on card acquisition as Jan 2018 & Mar 2018 AA Platinum cards
- After the annual fee posted, I converted this card to a Citi ThankYou Rewards+ card in November 2019
- March 2019 – Citi AA Platinum (personal)
- Same details on card acquisition as Jan/Mar/Oct 2018 AA Platinum cards
- Still hold this card; likely to convert it to another Citi card in April 2020 after the annual fee posts
- 4 Citi AA Platinum cards acquired using mailers over a span of 15 months
- For each of these 4 cards, I applied using a physical mailer with a 9-digit code, addressed to one of the Middle Age Miles kids at our address
- The MAM kid who was the addressee on the mailers is an actual human being with a legitimate AAdvantage account, who has flown AA many times
- Each mailer and its corresponding offer terms contained no language restricting transfer of the offer
- Note that Citi also sent mailers to our house containing 12-digit codes, which could not be used by anyone other than the person to whom it was addressed
- Each time, I applied under my own name, my own SSN, and my own other account details
- Each time, Citi approved my application
- Citi clearly knew that I had other Citi AA Platinum cards when it approved the last 3 cards. All of the cards were (and still are) associated with the same online account. I even spoke with a Citi agent about the card approved in Oct 2018 to verify my identity and discuss my overall credit limit with Citi (although he did not specifically mention the 2 open Citi AA Platinum cards).
How Did I Find Out My AAdvantage Account Is Locked?
Well, for starters, I did *not* receive any notification from AA that my account had been locked. I have still not received any communication from AA reaching out to me to tell me that my account is locked, what that means, why it is locked, a timeline for resolution, a procedure for how and by what criteria it will be resolved, or what may be the ultimate result.
Instead, the process has gone like this:
- Sometime in early-to-mid December (perhaps on December 12, 2019; see the entry below dated 1/15/20) – AA locked my AAdvantage account.
- December 18, 2019 – I made an award reservation for Middle Age Miles daughter KB, for a flight that would occur on January 1, 2020.
- December 19, 2019 – Philly and I were scheduled to fly from Seattle to DFW. Our flight had a couple of lengthy delays and was ultimately canceled. I made 2 calls that day to the AA Executive Platinum line. Each time, my call was re-routed to AA Customer Service, and upon hearing what I needed, the agent transferred me to the Exec Plat reservations line. No one mentioned any problems with my account. Philly and I were accommodated on an early-morning flight the next day, and we even had Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) that cleared.
- I thought it was odd that my calls weren’t going to the Exec Plat reservations desk like I expected, but I didn’t spend any more time thinking about it at the time.
- December 28, 2019 – By this time, I had read a fair bit about AAdvantage account terminations. I could still log in to my account, and I had continued to earn miles, including on my December 20 flight. I checked the Jan 1 ticket for KB, and it said “Ticket Pending.” Despite receiving no communication from AA, I had a strong sense at that time that there was an issue with my AAdvantage account.
- December 28-29, 2019 (Sat/Sun) – I tried to place calls to the Exec Plat line to check on KB’s ticket. Each time, my call was routed to AA Customer Service, and I got an automated message that their office was closed until Mon 12/30. I wasn’t be able to get anything done on her ticket over the weekend.
- December 30, 2019 – I called the Exec Plat line again and reached AA Customer Service. I explained the situation and asked what needed to be done to get the “pending” ticket pushed through, since my daughter’s flight was in 2 days. The agent’s answers were vague (and I talked with a supervisor as well):
- There was a “glitch” with my account
- There was nothing I could do to get KB’s ticket issued – I would need to find some other way to fly her halfway across the country, on 2 days’ notice
- I told the agent that I was happy to answer any questions, talk with anyone, and generally do anything I needed to do to get the “glitch” cleared up, whatever was causing it
- I should have received an email from AA Corporate Security (I hadn’t) and if not, I would receive one soon (I still haven’t to this day)
- Be sure to check my junk mail folder (I did; still no email from AA Corp Sec)
- They could not transfer me to AA Corporate Security, and they could not provide any way that I could reach out to contact AA Corporate Security myself
NOTE: I later learned, from a post by JonNYC on Flyertalk (a noted and generally reliable source for AA “insider” information), that the way AA Customer Service handled my call was consistent with directions that they had been given. Here’s the relevant section of JonNYC’s 12/27/19 post on Flyertalk:
- Still on December 30, 2019 – We canceled KB’s “pending” ticket. The AA miles for this ticket had actually never been deducted from my AAdvantage account, so no re-deposit was needed. We re-booked KB using AA miles from Philly’s account on a Web Special deal, for 6,000 miles less than her original ticket. (Ha!) The ticket issuance process was normal – it issued with no problems within an hour or less.
- January 15, 2020 (today) – I called AA for an issue on Philly’s account, unrelated to my lockdown. Again, my call was routed to AA Customer Service. The agent required me to verify my account by confirming my address, email, and most recent flight or other points-earning activity. The agent confirmed that my account remains on lockdown – and he actually used the word “lockdown” this time. He said that AA Corporate Security sent me an email on December 12. I re-checked all of my emails, and I did not receive anything from AA on that date. The agent said that he will have the email “re-sent” to me (that was several hours ago; I still haven’t received anything). I told the agent that I was happy to talk with anyone and I’m anxious to get the issue resolved, whatever it is, so my account can be unlocked.
What Happens From Here?
We honestly have no idea. As best we can tell, AA Corporate Security is working through the locked accounts, presumably giving them some sort of review. However, AA doesn’t seem to be communicating with anyone.
On one hand, things seem very discouraging. We have not heard any reports of anyone whose account has been locked being reinstated, or even of anyone being able to speak meaningfully with AA to review their account and answer questions. The only results so far have been either termination or indefinite lockdown.
On the other hand, common sense tells us that AA is likely to apply some reason to this process. Simply terminating the accounts of numerous AAdvantage account holders, many of whom (like me) fly a lot and spend a lot with AA, doesn’t make any business sense. On this point, we are encouraged by another comment by JonNYC on FlyerTalk:
If you can’t read the screenshot, the key point is as follows: A previous commenter had suggested in his Point #3 that “AA is wholly uninterested in the circumstances and individual particulars of the [locked] accounts.” To that comment, JonNYC responded: “But obviously #3 [that is, the comment that we quoted above] is ridiculous.” This makes complete sense to us.
Still, though, we have no communication at all from AA – no timeline; no idea what process or standards AA will apply; no ability to provide facts, data, explanation or argument. AA is acting as judge and jury here, using its own secret rules.
Our best guess is that AA applied some AI analysis to its database of member accounts (or maybe just ran a simple script), which resulted in a group of accounts being identified for termination or lockdown. Presumably, the group was sorted into 2 initial batches, those who would be immediately terminated and those who would be locked down. From here, our best guess is that JonNYC is correct – that is, that AA will consider the circumstances and individual particulars of the accounts in making decisions on how to proceed with each impacted member.
Fingers crossed that we’re right about the process, and that I am just temporarily in the penalty box, not ejected from the game.
Fortunately, the only award tickets currently booked using AA miles from my account are for flights that don’t occur until late summer. The reservations were made and ticketed before my account was locked down. They still show as “ticketed.” Presumably (hopefully?), this process will sort itself out with enough time for us to make reasonable alternative flight arrangements. For many other people, though, they have award flights coming up much sooner and may be at risk of being stuck without a return ticket, mid-trip.
What Factors May Help Me in an AA Review?
There would seem to be several factors that may help me in an AA review, as I’ve been a loyal and valuable AA customer, and setting aside the “mailer” issue I don’t have any questionable activity on my account:
- I am an Executive Platinum member, for the 3rd straight year now
- I have spent >$10,000 with American during 2019, roughly the same amount in 2017 and 2018, and also thousands of dollars per year for many years before that (remember that using Amex/Chase/Citi points counts as a paid fare and as actual spend with AA)
- I put >$70,000 in spend on AA co-branded credit cards in 2019
- I only used mailers addressed to a member of my household with the same last name, who is a legitimate AAdvantage account holder
- My use of mailers was modest and mostly spaced out – only 4 within 15 months
- All new card accounts, of course, were made using my own name, SSN and other details, and all were approved by Citi
In addition, I didn’t do any of these things that seem “worse” and/or would be clear violations of AAdvantage program terms:
- I didn’t buy or sell any AA miles, and I never offered to buy or sell miles
- Neither I nor anyone else in our household created any false AAdvantage accounts; for instance, in the name of a pet, houseplant, or imaginary friend
- I only made award reservations for myself and immediate family members
- I never bought or sold any mailers, nor did anyone else in our household
- I never used any mailer that had been purchased
- I never used any e-mailer (generally, and perhaps always, e-mailers contained terms that prohibited transfer of the offer)
If JonNYC is correct that AA is considering the circumstances and individual particulars of the accounts, I think my record should hold up fine and my account would be reinstated. But at this point, given AA’s lack of transparency, who knows?
I’m not here to ask for sympathy. The objective is to provide a clear, detailed data point, along with some thoughts on what has happened and how it might play out.
That said, I strongly believe that AA is acting unreasonably and unfairly, given its lack of communication, lack of transparency, lack of process, and indefinite lockdowns – not to mention that each card application was vetted and approved by AA’s partner, Citi. In addition, locked down members cannot travel on AA with any peace of mind. I won’t further belabor the point.
And even if you believe that I violated AAdvantage program terms, a full shutdown of my account seems punitive and extremely unfair. I have earned hundreds of thousands of miles through flying and a variety of other methods that have nothing to do with Citi AA Platinum cards from mailers.
Although I’m an attorney, I have not yet undertaken the effort to assess the legal landscape in the event that my account is terminated. We’ll save that for later day, one which hopefully never comes.
Thinking about alternatives – As a hub captive in DFW, it’s nearly impossible to cut bait on AA. Especially for Philly’s work trips, she needs to get to her destination as quickly, easily and comfortably as possible, and that almost always means flying AA (even with its flaws). I have considered at least crediting flights to a partner carrier, which would probably be British Airways. But by doing so, I’d lose my Executive Platinum benefits (which still seem to be working) and probably not be able to re-qualify for Exec Plat if my account was reinstated later this year. For now, perhaps naively, I’m going to continue to credit to AA and hope that I’ve guessed correctly.
What are your thoughts on the AA termination/lockdown situation? Have you been impacted? Am I being overly naive about potentially being reinstated? I welcome your thoughts and analysis in the Comments!
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