As regular Middle Age Miles readers know, since mid-December my AAdvantage account has been locked. I’ve been chronicling this situation here, along with providing thoughts on strategy and potential alternatives during my lockdown limbo period as well as in the event my account was eventually terminated.
For those who’d like to catch up or review my situation and prior articles, I’ll link them here for your convenience:
- 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)
- Middle Age Miles: AA Lockdown Update – Including Potential Media Coverage and Can I Spend My Way Back Into AA’s Good Graces? (February 18, 2020)
I’ll also recap my personal situation later in this article.
I had initially thought that I had a decent chance of being reinstated, in light of my long and loyal history with AA, including tens of thousands of dollars of paid flights and enough spend and flown miles to earn Executive Platinum status in each of the past 3 years. However, as data points of account terminations continued to roll in, I became less optimistic – especially within the last week as AA shut down more people somewhat similarly situated to me. By the middle of this week, I had become convinced that termination – however unjustified and nonsensical it may be on AA’s part – was inevitable.
Today, AA terminated my account.
Termination Email from AA
During the noon hour Central time today (Friday, February 28), I received this email from Blake Patton, AAdvantage Fraud Analyst, AA Corporate Security:
In case you can’t read the image, here’s the text:
Dear CHARLES CRAIG TADLOCK,
A recent investigation has determined your involvement in multiple violations of the General AAdvantage Program Terms and Conditions, related to the accrual of ineligible AAdvantage miles and benefits. These actions specifically involve abuse of the AAdvantage Program through gaming behavior, used to circumvent the Citibank/AAdvantage card enrollment bonus eligibility restrictions. These restrictions are outlined in the promotional bonus terms, and at the top of each application page. Per the AAdvantage Program governing terms:
* Fraud, misrepresentation, abuse or violation of applicable rules (including, but not limited to, American or American Eagle conditions of carriage, tariffs and AAdvantage program rules) is subject to administrative and/or legal action by appropriate governmental authorities and American Airlines. Such action may include, without limitation, the forfeiture of all award tickets and any accrued mileage in a member’s account, as well as termination of the account and the member’s future participation in the AAdvantage program. If your account is terminated due to inappropriate conduct or while under investigation, you may not open a new AAdvantage account or participate in the AAdvantage Program in any capacity without obtaining the express written permission of American Airlines. In addition, American Airlines reserves the right to take appropriate legal action to recover damages, including its attorneys’ fees incurred in prosecuting any lawsuit.
As such, we must now exercise our right to terminate AAdvantage account # XXXXXXX. All membership benefits associated with this account, including all remaining miles and issued award tickets, are forfeited, effective February 28, 2020. Any tickets issued from these accounts have been cancelled and you will need to make alternative arrangements for any upcoming travel plans. You are no longer eligible to participate in the AAdvantage Program.
Interestingly, AA’s termination email to me specifically alleges that I engaged in “gaming behavior” to “circumvent the Citibank/AAdvantage card enrollment bonus eligibility restrictions.” I do not believe this language has been present in earlier termination letters that AA has been sending to account holders that it has shut down.
The allegations are still vague and do not state any facts, but they at least tell us that AA is focused on credit card sign-up bonuses from Citi (not Barclays, and not any other type of behavior in general). This at least narrows the scope so that AA cannot later claim that I (or others whose accounts were terminated) committed any other violations that were the basis for termination.
AA’s Allegations Against Me Are Incorrect
I did not “circumvent the Citibank/AAdvantage card enrollment bonus eligibility restrictions.”
As I have described in detail in previous articles, there were 4 instances where I applied and was approved for Citi AA Platinum personal credit cards – 3 during 2018 and 1 during 2019. (I also got 1 Barclays AA Business card in January 2018 from a public link, but AA’s termination letter to me makes clear that this is not what AA relied upon.)
For each of these cards:
- I used a code from a physical mailer to apply. The mailer was sent to my house. The addressee was a Middle Age Miles kid who is an actual human being with a legitimate AAdvantage account and has flown AA many times. I did not create any false AAdvantage accounts (using pet names, imaginary friends or the like), nor did anyone in my household.
- Each mailer and its corresponding offer terms contained no language restricting transfer of the offer or saying that it was intended only for the recipient.
- Each mailer and its corresponding offer terms contained no language limiting how often the applicant could be approved or could receive a sign-up bonus.
- 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 and approved my application.
- Each time, I legitimately spent the amount required to earn the sign-up bonus for the card. Citi agreed that I had met all requirements to earn the bonus, and Citi and AA credited my AAdvantage account with AA bonus miles.
This was not a glitch, as if there was a loophole that would let you buy AA flights for a dollar, or if a software issue automatically awarded people 10x as many AA miles through the shopping portal than they should have received. Rather, the credit card application and sign-up bonus system was working exactly as it was designed by AA and Citi:
- AA and Citi carpet-bombed AAdvantage members with mailers
- The express terms and conditions on the mailers did not contain any limitations on the time frames or the number of sign-up bonuses
- When AA and Citi wanted to restrict the time frames or number of sign-up bonuses, they knew how to do so; there were other offers that were only available if the applicant had not opened or closed a Citi AA co-branded card in 24 months (or later, 48 months)
- The mailers did not contain any restrictions on transfer – there was certainly nothing to indicate that they couldn’t be used by members of the same household, and the application interface allowed people to put their own information into the application even if the mailer was addressed to someone else
- When AA and Citi wanted to restrict transferability, they knew how to do so; there were other mailers on which the application interface only worked for the addressee of the mailer (these applications did not allow the applicant data to be changed from the mailer addressee to anyone else)
- The applications were not fraudulent – the applicant entered their own name, social security number, address, financial data and AAdvantage number
- Citi vetted and approved each of the applications
- By doing so, Citi confirmed that the applications, if approved, met all banking requirements and all requirements of Citi and AA
- Citi had its own time restrictions on how often applications could be approved (such as 2 in 60 days)
- In each case where a sign-up bonus was received, the cardholder had met the spend requirements to receive the bonus; Citi agreed, and Citi and AA issued the bonus AA miles in accordance with the terms of the offer
The truth of the matter here is that AA is trying to enforce terms and conditions that simply did not exist, and do so retroactively. But beyond that, even if I or others had done something wrong with respect to the sign-up bonuses, the punishment would not fit the crime – AA could simply re-capture miles (at least for accounts that still have them) and issue a stern warning. Terminating accounts is absolutely a disproportionate response here, even if the account holder had actually gotten one or more sign-up bonuses improperly.
Remarkably, before terminating my account, including when it was locked for 2½ months, AA (a) did not notify me that I was under investigation; (b) refused to communicate with me regarding the investigation; and (c) gave me no opportunity to explain my situation or defend myself. And, of course, AA gave no advance warning or notice that multiple card applications and sign-up bonuses that were approved by Citi were problematic in any way.
AA Has Improperly Taken Almost 1.25 Million Miles and Other Valuable Benefits that I Spent Real Money to Earn
At the time AA terminated my account:
- I had 960,000+ AA miles in my account
- I also had award tickets totaling 270,000 AA miles that I recently canceled
- Thus, the total number of AA miles improperly taken was a little over 1.23 million
Lest readers think that AA only took miles that I earned from sign-up bonuses, let me dispel that notion: AA took from me more than 950,000 miles that I earned through activities other than Citi credit card sign-up bonuses.
AA also took many other valuable benefits that I spent real money to earn, including:
- Executive Platinum status (and related benefits such as 4 systemwide upgrades)
- In this article from The Points Guy, AA Executive Platinum status is worth $7,185 per year
- Lifetime Gold status
- 1.86 million lifetime “Million miler” miles
- I was on pace to reach 2 million miles easily by the end of 2021, which comes with Lifetime Platinum status and 4 additional systemwide upgrades
- According to The Points Guy’s analysis, AA Platinum status is worth $2,220 per year
I had spent tens of thousands of dollars over the past few years to earn these benefits, including spending at least $10,000 with AA in each of the past several years.
Preparing for Termination
As I mentioned earlier in this article, I had become more convinced over the past week that AA would terminate my account. There were several recent data points of people being terminated who had high elite status, plenty of paid flights with AA, and a small number of sign-up bonuses – the likes of which we hadn’t seen in the earlier days of the AA lockdown/shutdown saga.
Thus, we made every effort to distance family members’ accounts from mine, such as bringing all the Middle Age Miles kids’ addresses up to date with their actual current addresses. We also canceled all award tickets where I was booked on the same itinerary with a family member.
In addition, we booked alternate flights to replace our award tickets so that our future travel plans could remain intact.
All of these steps seemed prudent to hopefully isolate the impact of my account termination to just me. None of my family members had any worrisome activity in their accounts, but we wanted to be overly cautious in light of some data points where family members’ accounts with low Citi activity have been terminated along with those of the person actually under investigation by AA.
Finally, I also recently took screenshots of my AA account and all of my activity for the past 2 years, to use as needed in any action I take post-termination.
If your AA account is locked but not terminated, we strongly recommend that you consider some or all of these preventative steps.
What Happens Next?
Choosing a New Loyalty Program
From a practical standpoint, I need to choose a new program where I can credit miles from future AA flights. In light of the recent announcement that Alaska Airlines is renewing its partnership with AA effective immediately and joining Oneworld in mid-2021, Alaska Mileage Plan seems like the most likely choice long-term.[Remember, we’re in DFW, and I’m largely hub-captive to American. For most of our flying needs, AA is by far the most convenient – and convenience is extremely important to us given our current life circumstances. To the extent possible, we’ll certainly book away from AA. We’d love to cut AA off completely, but we’re not going to cut off our nose to spite our face.]
That said, (a) the AS-AA program is not up and running yet, so I need somewhere to credit AA flights in the short term; and (b) I need to study other Oneworld programs such as British Airways, Iberia, Finnair and others to ensure that I make the long-term choice that best suits my needs.
Right now, I’m changing the loyalty program number on all of my Oneworld flights to British Airways, so I can at least earn some credit in a program whose currency is useful to me. I’ll readjust later as needed.
Dealing with Credit Cards
Right now, I have 3 AA co-branded credit cards:
- 1 – Citi AA Platinum card (primary cardholder) – This card will have its first anniversary in late March. I expect to keep it until then but not put any spend on it. Once the anniversary date passes, I’ll product change it to a different Citi card.
- 2 – Barclays AA Aviator Silver card (primary cardholder) – This card is currently up for renewal. The annual fee posted about 2 weeks ago. Ironically, in one way this card becomes more valuable to me post-termination (even though I won’t get free checked bag or Group 5 boarding benefits since I no longer have an AAdvantage number). The card has a benefit of $25/day in AA in-flight food & beverage credits. Previously, when I’ve flown with AA in coach, I’ve received a snack and drink for free as an Executive Platinum benefit so the benefit has been virtually worthless. Now, though, it becomes useful. I can use the credit to purchase the snacks and drinks that I want, up to $25 per day. In addition, I spent enough on the card last year to earn a 2-person companion pass. The value of that companion pass will exceed the card’s $199 annual fee. So, somewhat oddly, this card is a keeper, at least for this year.
- 3 – Citi AA Executive card (authorized user) – This card is also a keeper. As an authorized user (AU), I will continue to have access to Admirals Clubs as long as I have a same-day boarding pass on AA or another Oneworld airline. The AU lounge access benefit for this card is not tied to the AU’s AAdvantage number.
Coordinating Flight Reservations
Because Philly still has Executive Platinum status, many benefits also extend to her travel companions on the same reservation. At times in the past, we’ve split our reservations to pay for them using different methods or some other reason. Going forward, we’ll be more cognizant to make sure we’re both on the same record locator so that her “companion” benefits will extend to me.
Contacting AA to Ask for More Detail
In the message boards on AA terminations, conventional wisdom seems to be to contact AA to ask for more detail before taking further action. To me, this seemed like a solid and reasonable step when AA’s termination letter was more vague.
In my termination letter, though, AA specifically referenced Citi cards. At this point, I’m not necessarily keen to open the door for AA to dump any additional allegations into the mix. In my case, there shouldn’t be anything else that AA could complain about, but I don’t see why I’d give them a reason to look.
My initial reaction is to contact AA, respond to their allegations as set forth in the termination letter, and ask for immediate reinstatement. I believe this can be done in parallel with actions in administrative agencies and litigation against AA.
Preparing and Filing Administrative Complaints
Initially, I suspect that the first step along these lines is to file an administrative complaint against AA with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT). I understand that a number of people terminated by AA have already done this. The basis for the complaint would be a violation of 49 USC §41712, which prohibits air carriers from engaging in unfair and deceptive practices and unfair methods of competition. It’s important to understand, though, that the DoT has no power to award damages, so this avenue is limited.
I will also consider whether to file a complaint against Citi with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). I haven’t studied this procedure yet. I see some potential use for a CFPB complaint, to the extent it causes Citi to provide a response that might help a case against AA.
Preparing for and Initiating Litigation
At this time, I anticipate that I will file a court case against AA. My initial research suggests that claims against the airline are somewhat limited by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Northwest v. Ginsberg. However, there still seem to be meaningful avenues of relief potentially available under Texas law. Some claims may require actions to be taken in advance of filing a lawsuit, so I’ll investigate these requirements and get started on them.
Cooperating with Reporters Who Are Interested in This Story of AA’s Overaggression
Last week we communicated with 2 reporters who were considering stories on this topic. One seemed to have serious interest in a story, and we spent a fair bit of time working with them. Hopefully a good story will be forthcoming soon. I’m certain that the reporter, like most of the world, has been overwhelmed with coronavirus-related work this week.
We’ll continue to work with reporters who express genuine interest in publicizing AA’s overaggression and deceptive conduct.
It’s a sad day at Middle Age Miles. We genuinely believe that we’ve done nothing wrong here, and we’re prepared to fight to set things right. We also genuinely feel for other people who find themselves in a similar situation with AA. We hope that our articles help people who have been impacted, in addition to informing others about AA’s corporate bullying.
What are your thoughts on the AA shutdown situation? Are there other things we should be doing at this time to increase the likelihood that we and others can recover from AA or be reinstated? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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