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American Airlines

Your American AAdvantage Account At Risk: The Growing Crisis of Stolen Miles And How The Airline Fights Back

There has been an absolute rash of American Airlines AAdvantage account fraud lately.

Clint Henderson of The Points Guy wrote about his experience including the frustrations dealing with American over getting his miles back. A few weeks ago One Mile at a Time dealt with the same thing.

The AAdvantage fraud team isn’t available over the weekend, making it easier to actually travel on fraudulent redemptions. They require you to fill out a police report and give them a copy. Only that’s not the easiest thing with some police departments.

American made a strategic blunder that makes this all worse for customers. They used to allow Award Wallet to track accounts for members.

  • One click and members get updates on all of their account balances, and it’s easy to see changes immediately. Hundreds of thousands of customers knew almost immediately when miles were drained, and could act quickly to get redemptions cancelled, help get thieves caught, and mitigate American’s losses.
  • However American decided that customers needed to go to their own website, and figured that they’d do so if they had to in order to see their balances. But balance changes at Award Wallet draw customers to the website for the details! An inability to easily see changes – without the effort of having to go to a dedicated website and log in (and the login is no longer even right there on the screen when most people arrive) means less engagement. In the case of fraud on member accounts that used to be checked with Award Wallet, the losses are American’s own fault.
  • Last year, View From the Wing covered American rolling out multi-factor authentication to access AAdvantage accounts. It both mitigates fraud but also raises the transaction cost of accessing an account and makes it less likely that a member will do so, either not going back in the first place or abandoning the effort (for instance, they don’t have their phone with them when on their laptop or tablet).

Meanwhile, American’s crackdown on fraud in response to this surge has meant more members who’ve sold their miles getting caught.

  • American doesn’t really ‘want’ to ‘get’ most individual members. They’re looking for the big fish, the brokers who are buying and selling miles at scale.
  • American faces no meaningful burden of proof, and customers have little recourse. They can shut down an account with little evidence or no evidence. So assume if they contact you it doesn’t matter whether you incriminate yourself, since American (and any loyalty program, really) is prosecutor, judge and jury. If you don’t respond, you’ll get your account shut down. If you deny it, you’ll get your account shut down unless you can prove your innocence.
  • So the best thing to do when you’ve sold miles is to admit it and give them all of the information they’re asking for – all of the contact information, names involved, and metadata. That’s how you get the most favorable outcome, which may mean a penalty of some amount of miles still remaining in your account for a first offense and the ability to continue in the program versus a banning.

Having your account hacked is annoying. You’ll need a new AAdvantage number and they’ll want you to use a new e-mail address, too. You’ll need to get a police report on the theft, which is interesting because the implication is that the miles belong to you rather than to the airline. You’re treated as though it’s your own security lapse that’s caused the theft, rather than – as is clearly the case – a systematic issue with American AAdvantage accounts being targeted lately.

And selling miles is reasonably likely to have consequences, if you care about having an ongoing business relationship with the airline and mileage program. It’s one thing if you plan to just walk away from them anyway – it’s not illegal, the consequences are civil – but risking an elite account with large mileage balance has long struck me as foolhardy.

This article was originally published by View From the Wing on 20th April 2024. View original.

Photo by Joshua Hanson on Unsplash.

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