American Airlines has one of the most active corporate security departments when it comes to shutting down accounts, and it looks like American is now shutting down AAdvantage accounts for a new reason.
The AAdvantage car rental scam
The always knowledgable @xJonNYC notes that American Airlines is terminating AAdvantage accounts right now over car rental receipts submitted for mileage credit. The basic concept is that:
- AAdvantage miles ordinarily expire after 18 months of inactivity
- If your AAdvantage miles expire, one way to undo that is to see if any activity didn’t post to your account, which would keep your miles from expiring
- American AAdvantage has some car rental partners, and the car rental industry is rather low tech in many ways
- Some people submitted car rental receipts from alleged past rentals to reinstate miles, and those accounts are now being closed
..now we have new reports of terminated– not locked, but terminated– accounts, for submitting bogus paperwork.
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) April 23, 2020
For those wondering how this is possible:
- I suspect there were a few people behind this, who probably offered to help people reinstate their miles for “free” (in exchange for a fee, of course)
- So much of the travel industry has outdated technology, and that’s especially the case in the car rental industry, so chances are this could go on for a long time without anyone noticing, since AAdvantage likely wasn’t even verifying the legitimacy of the receipts
- Car rentals earn a very limited number of miles, so on the surface this seemed like chump change to the airline, which is probably why they didn’t look at this more closely; I would guess they didn’t even realize miles were being reactivated because of this activity
- I would guess there was a certain repetition to the submissions that raised some red flags, and that caused an investigation
Unlike some past controversial shutdowns, this seems pretty straightforward and fair, assuming they only shut down accounts that they’re certain engaged in this activity.
The more controversial AAdvantage shutdown
In late 2019 American made headlines for the ways in which they were closing down AAdvantage accounts.
Essentially Citi had been sending out mailers for credit card bonuses without the usual restrictions on how often you can earn the bonus. People figured out the patterns and applied for a lot of cards as a result.
The catch is that this was much more complicated than meets the eye. While a lot of people knew exactly what they were doing, others weren’t, and some weren’t even technically breaking the rules.
We don’t know the scale of the new AAdvantage account shutdowns, but it appears that American is closing some accounts for people who used car rental receipts that didn’t belong to them in order to reinstate miles.
I’d speculate that there were some number of people behind this doing this for a large quantity of accounts (I don’t know whether that’s dozens, hundreds, or thousands), and that’s probably how they caught on.