I Got Shutdown By American Airlines and Award Flights Canceled

American Airlines “locked” my AAdvantage account in early December 2019, but now my account is officially shut down.

I had a family trip planned with my fiancee’s family to South Africa planned for the summer 2020, so American Airlines canceled:

  • 5 business class flights on Qatar Airways (including QSuites from U.S. to Doha)
  • 3 business class flights flights on Etihad Airways
  • 4 economy class flights on American Airlines (web-special with paid Main Cabin Extra upgrade). 
Over the past two years, I opened nine American Airlines credit cards with four via public links (Citi AAdvantage Executive, Citi AAdvantage Platinum, Citi AAdvantage Business, and Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Business). 

The American Airlines Shutdown Email

Dear [Mr. Deals Points],

A recent investigation has determined your involvement in multiple violations of the General AAdvantage Program Conditions. These violations are related to the accrual of ineligible miles and benefits; through fraud, misrepresentation and/or abuse of the AAdvantage Program. Additionally, any award tickets obtained through an “Exploitive Practice” are in violation  of the AA Conditions of Carriage and are not valid for travel. 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.

From the conditions of carriage: 

Your ticket is not valid when:

  • We find that the ticket was bought using an exploitative practice

As such, we must now exercise our right to terminate AAdvantage account # [AAAAAA.] All membership benefits associated with this account, including all remaining miles and issued award tickets, are forfeited, effective January [XX,] 2020. Award tickets obtained through fraud, misrepresentation, or violations of the AAdvantage Terms and Conditions and or Conditions of Carriage are not valid for travel. Any tickets issued from these accounts have been cancelled and you will need to make alternate arrangements for any upcoming travel plans. 

Because it is clear from our investigation that you have been engaged in one or more violations of the General AAdvantage Program Conditions, any additional accounts in your name or that you control must also be terminated. All membership benefits associated with these accounts, including all remaining miles and unused tickets, are forfeited, effective January [XX,] 2020. You are no longer eligible to participate in the AAdvantage Program.

Regards,

Kendall Williams

Fraud Investigator

Corporate Security

Rebooking Our Trip

We are in the process of rebooking all of our flights mostly using United Airlines, Chase Ultimate Rewards, LifeMiles, and American Express Membership Rewards.

We don’t have our flights to South Africa yet, but we have rebooked all of our return flights:

  • I am now flying back to the U.S. in Cathay Pacific business class with 62,500 Alaska Miles with a 26-hour stopover in Hong Kong. I’ve flown Cathay Pacific business class several times before, and while I consider it good, its fairly boring. I was really hoping to try our Etihad’s business class to see how it compares.
  • Three people are flying back in business class with United Miles from South Africa to Sao Paulo to the U.S. One segment is on South African’s A330-200, which is not ideal since it’s fairly outdated, but we will continue to monitor to see if a better option is worth paying to switch to.

One person can no longer make the trip, so I was able to cancel a LifeMiles trip and redeposit the miles without a fee. However, I booked a pretty awesome routing of JNB-ADD-FRA-HND-ORD with two segments in ANA First Class, so it’s sad to see that amazing award go away. The Tokyo-Haneda to Chicago first class award never went back into inventory and there was no other ANA business class flights to the U.S. with award space, so we are turning those LifeMiles plus about 40,000 leftover LifeMiles into a business class flights for two people to South Africa.

I was able to rebook one QSuites flight on a less convenient day and a different airport with using American miles from a “safe” account. Our original flights never went back into inventory as well, so I couldn’t rebook those more ideal dates and routings.

Fighting Back Against American Airlines

Disclaimer: I am an attorney, but this is not legal advice. This is what I am doing for my situation. I cannot help anyone with their case.

I filed a Department of Transport complaint since they have the authority to investigate complaints related to frequent flyer programs. See Nw., Inc. v. Ginsberg, 572 U.S. 273, 288-89, 134 S. Ct. 1422, 1433 (2014)(“Congress has given the Department of Transportation (DOT) the general authority to prohibit and punish unfair and deceptive practices in air transportation and in the sale of air transportation, 49 U. S. C. §41712(a), and Congress has specifically authorized the DOT to investigate complaints relating to frequent flyer programs. See FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, §408(6), 126 Stat. 87. Pursuant to these provisions, the DOT regularly entertains and acts on such complaints.”)

A DOT complaint is very easy to file and only takes about 20 minutes to fill out. The DOT also has a page on frequent flyer programs. I was previously successful in a DOT complaint against Emirates to honor a $101 mistake economy class fare from the Maldives to the U.S., but I expect American Airlines will take a much harder stance than Emirates. 

American Airlines is required to file a response within 60 days, which gives me time to research case law for a potential state court case in Circuit Court since my state has a very low small claims limit. 

Shortly after filing my DOT complaint, I received a boilerplate response that it was forwarded to American Airlines.

“[Dear Mr. Deals Points]

This responds to your communication regarding American Airlines.  The U.S. Department of Transportation seeks to ensure that all airline passengers are treated fairly. Complaints from consumers are helpful to us in determining whether the airlines are in compliance with the law and to track trends or spot areas of concern that warrant further action.

I will forward your complaint to the airline and ask the company to respond directly to you with a copy to us.
Airlines are required to provide a substantive response to the complainant within 60 days. We will review the airline’s response. If you need to contact me, please be sure to include your name and case number (see above).

If our review of your complaint and the response from the company discloses a potential violation of the law, we may pursue enforcement action. Generally, we pursue enforcement action on the basis of a number of complaints which may indicate a pattern or practice of violating the law. Your complaint may be among those considered and may lead to appropriate enforcement action including the assessment of civil penalties. However, we have no authority to order compensation for individual complainants.

I have entered your complaint in our computerized industry monitoring system, and it will be counted among the number of complaints filed against this airline in our monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. This report allows consumers and air travel companies to compare the complaint records of individual airlines and tour operators. The data in this report also serve as a basis for rulemaking, legislation and research. Consumer information for air travelers, including the Air Travel Consumer Report and our pamphlet Fly-Rights, a Consumer’s Guide to Air Travel, can be found on our website: www.dot.gov/airconsumer. Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Sincerely,

[DOT]”

Other Notes

Admirals Club Access- I have Admirals Club access via my Citi AAdvantage Executive credit card. I accessed an Admirals Club post-shutdown, but I had to have a very awkward 5-minute conversation about the shutdown with the desk agent after he noticed my AAdvantage account was terminated. Another shutdown person with an Executive card reported that it took an extra ten minutes to access the Admirals Club since the desk agent had to call Citi to verify the situation. 

American is Increasing Shutdowns- I am in a few shutdown groups and it appears that American Airlines is increasing the rate of the shutdowns. Previously, American was shutting down people at a rate of about 5 people per day. Last week, it seemed like they were shutting down accounts at a rate of 10-15 per day, so it appears they have increased the staffing of their corporate security department.

Over 1,000 People are Locked- There is an informal report that the number of locked accounts is in the low four digits. Plus the Reddit Shutdown group already has 1,000 members, so it seems like more than 1,000+ people accounts are locked.

Sign up for our Daily Points newsletter