Over the past few weeks, we’ve written about AA’s shutdowns and lockdowns of AAdvantage accounts, including:
- My own personal AA lockdown;
- Coverage and thoughts regarding the AA account shutdowns and lockdowns in general; and
- Planning and strategy issues for those in lockdown
You can catch up on our coverage of the AA shutdowns and lockdowns here:
- Middle Age Miles: Locked by AA – My Data Point with Details & Thoughts (January 15, 2020)
- Middle Age Miles: Planning & Strategy in the Face of an AA Lockdown (January 23, 2020)
We wanted to follow up on these articles to give you (1) a general update of where things stand with AA shutdowns & lockdowns; and (2) a specific update with respect to my account. There is also some potential media interest in this issue that we wanted to report.
Beyond that, we wanted to provide you with further insight into our planning and strategy for our upcoming international trips, as it relates to AA shutdown/lockdown issues. As we make these plans, we wonder – Is it possible to spend my way back into AA’s good graces?
AA Shutdowns & Lockdowns in General
The key current information regarding AA shutdowns and lockdowns in general is:
- There are reports of new shutdowns pretty much every single day (including on Saturday and Sunday over the President’s Day holiday weekend)
- It appears that AA Corporate Security is continuing to review the locked accounts
- No one has detected any pattern to the order of shutdowns or reviews
- For the most part, the shutdown reports on online threads are of people who had significant numbers of credit card sign-up bonuses and few or zero revenue flights
- That said, there are some reports of shutdowns of people who had as few as 4-5 sign-up bonuses over the past 2 years
- And AA guru @xJonNYC tweeted last night (February 17) that perhaps “considerable” baby has been tossed out with the bathwater by AA – “Many LONG term elites w/ a great AA history, etc., etc.”
- There have not been any more lockdowns in the past several weeks, after the 2 initial waves that occurred a couple of months ago
- There is not a single data point of a person whose account was locked being reinstated/released
- Some people have filed complaints against AA with the Department of Transportation (DoT), based on the DoT’s statutory authority under 49 USC 41712 to investigate “unfair and deceptive” practices – AA has provided only boilerplate responses to date – the DoT seems to have some interest in the issue, but remember, it cannot award relief directly to consumers
My Own Personal Situation
As a reminder, the background of my personal situation is:
- Executive Platinum each of the past 3 years (earned, not status-matched or gifted)
- Lifetime Gold member; less than 150,000 miles from reaching 2 million for Lifetime Platinum
- In excess of $10,000 spend with AA each of the past several years
- Sign-up bonus (SUB) activity:
- 2017 – 2 SUBs (both public; 1 Citi biz & 1 Barclays personal; both in Jan 2017)
- 2018 – 4 SUBs (1 public (Barclays biz) & 3 mailers (Citi personal))
- 2019 – 1 SUB (mailer (Citi personal))
- The 4 mailers that I used were all physical mailers sent to my house
- Addressee was a Middle Age Miles kid who is an actual human being with a legitimate AAdvantage account and has flown AA many times
- Each mailer and its corresponding offer terms contained no language restricting transfer of the offer (9-digit codes)
- Each time, I applied under my own name, my own SSN, and my own other account details
- Each time, AA’s co-brand partner Citi vetted approved my application
I’ll also add some detail here about my account and points-earning:
- I have 960,000+ AA miles in my account
- I also had award tickets totaling 270,000 AA miles that I recently canceled
- So, my total AA miles-at-risk number is a little over 1.23 million
- No matter how you count (even if you say that none of the miles I redeemed came from sign-up bonuses), overall I have more than 800,000 AA miles at risk that I earned through activities other than credit card sign-up bonuses
- In 2019, I earned more than 250,000 AA miles through activities other than credit card sign-up bonuses
- In 2018, I earned more than 225,000 AA miles through activities other than credit card sign-up bonuses
- My net award redemptions (excluding award flights that were booked but we later canceled and the miles were reinstated) totaled:
- 120,000 AA miles in 2019
- 160,000 AA miles in 2018
- [I know, we’d be in better shape if we’d used an “earn and burn” strategy!]
As you can see, I’m substantially at risk here, and the vast majority of my AA miles-earning activity has come from things other than credit card sign-up bonuses.
My current status is that my AA account is still locked but not shut down.
I made a call to AA yesterday, to try to reinstate into my account the 270,000 AA miles from the award tickets that I recently canceled (a benefit of Executive Platinum status) and get the fees we paid refunded. As usual during my lockdown, I called the Executive Platinum line but my call was re-routed to AA Customer Service. The Customer Service agent told me that my account was still under investigation by Corporate Security and that there was nothing he could do for me (including being unable to reinstate the miles or refund the fees).
Otherwise, I can still log in to my AA account. AA miles continue to accrue on my AA flights and other miles-generating activity, such as reciprocal earning from Hyatt stays.
Potential Media Coverage
There has been very little media coverage about AA’s actions to date. The article that’s the best so far in our view is one from almost 2 months ago, at the very beginning of this saga:
- Nasdaq: Will Going After Citi Card Churners Backfire on American Airlines? (December 22, 2019)
At the moment, though, we’re seeing some renewed interest from media. Last night, NBC Bay Area investigative reporter Chris Chmura (@Chris_Chmura) responded to a tweet from JonNYC soliciting input from impacted AA customers:
We responded to Chris Chmura and provided him with some basic information on the issue, plus links to our earlier articles.
In addition, this morning (February 18), JonNYC tweeted that another investigative reporter is interested in AA issues:
We’ve gotten this reporter’s information from JonNYC and we’ll also reach out to them. As JonNYC suggested, the most powerful stories for these reporters to pursue will be those from “real” AA customers with few credit card sign-up bonuses.
We’ll see if anything comes of these efforts, but it’s encouraging to see that there are reporters out there expressing interest. We’ll do our part to help!
Planning Our Upcoming International Travel in Light of My Lockdown
Over the past few days, we’ve honed in on our international travel plans for the next several months. The urgency was spurred by a good sale on international business class fares originating in Paris over the weekend – and remember, you can use flight tickets originating in Europe to save money if you’re planning a succession of trips.
We have 3 trips to Europe planned in the next few months, and as a matter of strategy, we decided to book all of them on AA in a way that AA will see as paid fares (we used Amex and Chase points).
There are several reasons for choosing to book paid fares on AA:
- One, these flights along with our other expected travel will ensure that Philly re-qualifies for Executive Platinum status during 2020
- This is very valuable in any event, and it will become even more valuable to us for me to get benefits as her companion if I’m shut down
- The AA flights were most convenient for us
- Remember, we’re hub-captive in DFW, which makes a huge difference
- Convenience is crucial to us as Philly is still working a full-time job with limited time off
- We could pay for the flights with Amex & Chase points, so we had very little out-of-pocket cost
- This strategy also seemed to make sense in light of my own AA lockdown and potential shutdown
- If my account is not shut down and I’m reinstated – The paid fares will ensure that I re-qualify for Executive Platinum status during 2020
- If my account is shut down later – The huge news from Alaska Airlines last week about re-connecting with AA and joining the Oneworld alliance means that Alaska Mileage Plan will become my back-up program. I will be able to credit the AA flights to AS Mileage Plan if needed, and they will help me earn elite status with Mileage Plan.
In addition, though, we wondered – by using this strategy, could I spend my way back into AA’s good graces? Surely, having several thousand dollars worth of paid business class fares on my “upcoming travel” record couldn’t hurt when AA reviews my account, right?
Well, many people would say that since I’m locked, I’m doomed; it’s only a matter of time before AA shuts me down. It’s hard to criticize people for thinking this, given that there is not a single data point of a person whose account was locked being reinstated/released.
That said, perhaps there’s some hope. Let’s think through the possibilities. We know that AA did some immediate account terminations at the beginning of this process. We also know that it locked a number of other accounts. We know that AA is reviewing the locked accounts. It’s terminating some locked accounts on a rolling basis; each day sees some new terminations of locked accounts. We don’t know whether there are other accounts that have been reviewed but not terminated.
It certainly could make sense that AA could have reviewed certain accounts and left them locked but not terminated:
- For starters, if AA was going to terminate all locked accounts, why would it subject itself to this long, resource-intensive manual review process? It could have just terminated all of the accounts at the outset, rather than locking them and manually reviewing them.
- In addition, once accounts are locked, it would make sense to me to keep all of them locked through the review process and release any surviving accounts only at the end. This would allow AA to adjust how it treated each account and possibly re-classify, if needed, before releasing anyone.
- Finally, as a matter of business sense, it makes no sense for AA to terminate and alienate otherwise profitable customers, even though they may have been captured by whatever initial criteria AA used to identify accounts for lockdown/investigation.
That leaves several possible scenarios for my account:
- 1 – It has been reviewed and not shut down; I’ll eventually be released/reinstated. In this case, our strategy works because I’ll still be on my way to re-qualifying for Executive Platinum.
- 2 – It has been reviewed and not shut down; but it is subject to further review in the future with a final termination-or-reinstatement decision yet to be made. In this case, surely adding several thousand dollars in paid fares to my list of upcoming trips can’t hurt in the further review!
- 3 – It has not yet been reviewed; but when it is reviewed the account is doomed. In this case, there’s nothing that can be done. I’ll just have to pivot to my back-up plan with Alaska and start the complaint and litigation process with AA.
- 4 – It has not yet been reviewed; and when it is reviewed AA will make some reasonable determination of whether to terminate or reinstate my account. In this case, being a good customer would matter. In any reasonable analysis, having several thousand additional dollars in paid fares on my list of upcoming trips should be a huge factor weighing toward reinstatement.
So, we’ll see. Maybe spending will help. We’ve certainly constructed this as best we can, with a strategy that works with AA and has a reasonable back-up plan with Alaska.
There are some holes, of course. If my AA account is truly doomed, at a minimum I should switch all miles earning to a different loyalty program now. But Alaska is not yet available to us, so I’d only be generating some modest interim miles-earning with British Airways. The credits wouldn’t matter toward elite qualification, as I’d be switching to Alaska soon anyway. So, I’m not foregoing much by continuing to credit flights to AA right now.
One thing that’s important is for Alaska to implement the ability to earn AS miles on AA flights prior to our mid-May departure on our first European trip. According to the Alaska press release, this is scheduled for “Spring 2020,” so we’re hopeful it would be in place by mid-May.
And finally, the thing that would cause the biggest problem would be if my AA account continues in lockdown status for another 3 months into mid-May. At that point, it would become a much more difficult decision on where to credit the high-dollar, high-earning flights. We’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.
The continuing lockdown saga with AA is draining. It’s taking up way too much of time to figure out what to do while my account is in limbo. Frankly, we feel strongly that AA should release my account and those who are similarly situated (and honestly, we believe that AA has wronged many others as well, who may not have spent as much on AA but didn’t violate any rules of the program). But either way, let’s get on with things – either release me so we can get back to business as usual, or terminate me so we can get on a new loyalty program as well as filing complaints and initiating litigation against AA.
What are your thoughts on the AA situation? Do you plan to pursue action with media, DoT complaints and/or litigation? Please let us know in the Comments!
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