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American Accuses Flyer of Fraud in DOT Complaint Response

American Accuses Flyer of Fraud in DOT Complaint Response
Joe Cortez

An American Airlines flyer is facing accusations of fraud, filed in a response to their complaint against the carrier. The flyer says the airline did not refund their AAdvantage miles after a flight was cancelled – but the airline claims the passenger illicitly obtained their AAdvantage miles.

Frequent flyers are always trying to get the most out of airline loyalty programs. But what happens when someone takes it too far? American Airlines is accusing a flyer of acting “in bad faith” in a response to a complaint revolving around unrefunded AAdvantage miles.

Accusations of Earning Miles Fraudulently “Is Completely False”

The situation began on April 30, 2020, when American AAdvantage flyer Maria Borges filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. In her eight-page complaint, Borges said she booked two business class award flights in 2019 for her daughter and son-in-law from Miami to Kahului Airport (OGG) on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

After booking the flights, Borges says she had to cancel her AAdvantage account “due to a security concern,” and was forced to open a new one. During that time, there were several flight changes which resulted in the two flyers being booked on different flights. Her claim suggests airline agents said they should cancel the reservation and start over.

In repeated phone calls, Borges both she and the son-in-law’s father both contacted American about getting the miles back to rebook flights. Each time, unnamed airline agents allegedly told both people the miles would be re-deposited into the new account, so they could rebook the flights.

However, the buck-passing seemed to stop on April 30, 2020, when Borges spoke to an AAdvantage supervisor. During their call, Borges says the supervisor investigated her accounts, and made a question about her credit history. The supervisor allegedly told Borges the miles on her account were “fraudulent,” because she received bonuses from multiple Citi AAdvantage credit cards. In a subsequent call later in the day, Borges accuses airline agents of saying her AAdvantage account was “being reviewed by corporate security for fraud.”

Borges asked the DOT to force American to give her back the used miles, and “impose appropriate civil penalties.”

American Says Flyer “Violated the Terms and Conditions” of AAdvantage

The Fort Worth-based carrier fired back in a 53-page response of their own. In the opening paragraph, American alleged Borges, her daughter and son-in-law worked together to open multiple Citi-backed AAdvantage credit cards to earn their miles.

“The Complainant and such individuals used various means of manipulation over a span of 20 months to improperly obtain bonus miles,” American writes in the complaint. “To which they were not entitled, for deposit into multiple AAdvantage accounts.”

The airline says all three opened multiple AAdvantage accounts with the goal of receiving credit cards with mileage bonus offers attached. In December 2019, the accounts of the daughter and son-in-law were frozen during a security sweep. American suggests that act may have lead to the booking of the two flights from Borges’ account.

“Unhappy that American detected and put the kibosh on the scheme, the Complainant now attempts to leverage the Department’s third-party formal complaint procedures to reinstate fraudulently accrued miles from a voluntarily terminated frequent flyer account,” the airline writes in its response. “As will be demonstrated herein, there has been no violation of any Departmental statutes or consumer protection regulations in American’s handling of the Complainant’s AAdvantage account or this matter.”

American’s evidence included posts written on Reddit and the FlyerTalk Forums, asking about potential resolution avenues for an account investigation and shutdown. The FlyerTalk thread is currently closed by moderators.

The docket is currently open on Regulations.gov, under docket ID DOT-OST-2020-0046. The complaint is still pending before the U.S. Department of Transportation.

View Comments (21)

21 Comments

  1. kc1174

    July 9, 2020 at 4:16 am

    I’m no fan of AA, but they’re right, and their response is legally sound.
    Hilarious.

  2. jjonathan

    July 9, 2020 at 4:18 am

    The outright of this airline is shocking. Lie, cheat, steal. It goes on without end and people STILL continue to use this airline. When will we “Unite” against such practices and finally put these frauds out of business?

  3. cheltzel

    July 9, 2020 at 5:24 am

    There is a much better (and complete) thread on FT about AA closing accounts due to churning at the link below. And it is not locked.

    https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/citi-thankyou-rewards/1999652-aa-accounts-restricted-nov-dec-2019-a.html

  4. jndaal

    July 9, 2020 at 7:41 am

    In Year 2019, I went on a Caribbean Cruise…….and at St. Thomas Virgin Island…..I exited the Ship…..and purchased Jewelry for my 3 sisters……as I was in town…….and you guessed it……..when my Luggage was being Transferred from the Ship to the Airline…….American……Employees when into my sealed Luggage…….and Stole ALL $550 worth of my property…….The Jewelry…….and of Course they American Airlines denied it………I file a Claim….and Got NOTHING……….F-ing-Theives !!!! James Douse…..dddneil41@gmail.com

  5. polinka

    July 9, 2020 at 8:50 am

    jjonathan, your post is hard to follow. Are you saying the airline lies, cheats and steals? As another poster said, there’s no love lost for AA but in this case they seem to be victims of an ongoing scam which they detected and stopped. Disliking the airline does not give one license to defraud it.

  6. oenterprise

    July 9, 2020 at 10:25 am

    I fly AA weekly because it is the only option. At the end of every flight, they have an “amazing exclusive offer” Guess what it is? Bonus Miles. Open up a card today. I have on many occasions told the flight attendant, “I already have an account” and they say,”open up another and get more bonus miles.” Because there are codes on the paper forms they fill out on the plan, i would not be surprised if the FA’s get some bonus, etc., for selling credit card accounts. For those who don’t know, AA gets a cut of every $ spent on those cards from the sponsoring bank. I do not fault the passengers at all. In fact, AA’s advantage program is garbage. I am a million miler and lost my status due to not traveling because of COVID. I have almost one hundred 500 mile upgrades and they said because i lost my “status” and no longer a premier (gold, platinum, etc) member. So, I am loyal by flying with them regularly, earn miles and upgrades but can’t use them unless i have status? Garbage.

  7. clarrkkent

    July 9, 2020 at 10:29 am

    I’m confused. Since when is it illegal or against policy for an individual to open a credit card? Is American claiming that because these folks are related that they cannot open individual accounts?

  8. Galileo787

    Galileo787

    July 9, 2020 at 10:59 am

    Citi credit card paid for those miles and not American Airlines, how is it fraud?

  9. AAdamE

    July 9, 2020 at 11:46 am

    @oenterprise, FA’s get $50 per new account

  10. JohnAx

    July 9, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    “oenterprise” claims to be a Million Miler (= lifetime gold status) who “lost status” due to not traveling.

    Is that a thing I need to be worried about?

  11. dbonn

    July 9, 2020 at 3:29 pm

    I have my own nightmare scenario on AA, everyone does. Still, I have been accumulating AA miles every month on a credit card. Despite activity on my account AA says the miles will expire in August of 2021. What a ripoff. That’s why I fly Southwest domestically. They are so easy to deal with. American is a has=been airline that even United tops these days.

  12. philipperv

    July 9, 2020 at 9:19 pm

    I have no sympathy for customers of United or American that get screwed over by either airline. Each company has been screwing their customers for many years now and if you don’t believe me then look at the airline rankings and see who is consistently last.

  13. mrow

    July 9, 2020 at 11:44 pm

    @oenterprise if you are a million miler (I am one so I know) you can never be less than Gold status in the AAdvantage program. As such something doesn’t add up with your situation. It’s either not quite as you have outlined in your post or something has been messed up with your account.

    AA have also granted a 1 year status extension to members so you should not have lost your status if you requalified in 2019. So lack of flying due to COVID should not be affecting your status.

    I would suggest you call AA if the situation is as you describe in your post as something is amiss.

  14. skysoldier82

    July 10, 2020 at 3:14 am

    “Million Miler who last status because of COVID? Kinda funny, because they extended my EXP status without question. I’m sure they extend higher up the food chain too; I’m tempted not to believe your claim.

  15. dliesse

    July 10, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Not really enough details presented to tell exactly what happened and what is constituting fraud — probably in the remaining 50+ pages of AA’s response. It does sound rather disingenuous, though, for FAs to be telling passengers to “open another account” and collect the miles.

    Can’t help feeling, though, that this wouldn’t be an issue if the airlines hadn’t gotten greedy and turned their programs into revenue centers instead of the original intention of rewarding frequent flyers (as opposed to frequent spenders).

    BTW, Joe Cortez, the past tense of “lead” is spelled “led” without the middle a. When “lead” is pronounced that way it refers to a metal. People who write as a profession should be familiar with their language!

  16. nittfan

    July 10, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    “dbonn July 9, 2020 at 3:29 pm
    I have my own nightmare scenario on AA, everyone does. Still, I have been accumulating AA miles every month on a credit card. Despite activity on my account AA says the miles will expire in August of 2021. What a ripoff. That’s why I fly Southwest domestically. They are so easy to deal with. American is a has=been airline that even United tops these days.

    dbonn, I don’t understand? Per AAdvantage website – “AAdvantage® members must have mileage earning or redeeming activity once every 18 months in order to retain their miles. If your account has no qualifying activity in any 18-month period, all miles in the account will expire. Qualifying activity extends the expiration date of all unexpired mileage credit in your account for 18 months from the date of the qualifying activity. Qualifying activity is defined as redeeming any AAdvantage® award or accruing mileage credit on any eligible American, American Eagle® or AAdvantage® airline participant as well as accruing mileage credit with participating hotels, car rental companies, credit cards, telecommunication providers and other service providers offering AAdvantage® mileage credit”. https://www.aa.com/i18n/aadvantage-program/aadvantage-terms-and-conditions.jsp

    As long as you have activity, your miles should not expire. Did someone “official” at AA tell you your miles would expire? It simply should not happen …..

  17. dlvete

    July 12, 2020 at 10:46 am

    Elite Status cannot go down for 2021. From AA website: https://www.aa.com/i18n/aadvantage-program/aadvantage-program-updates.jsp
    “If your current elite status expires on January 31, 2021, we’ve extended the expiration date until January 31, 2022.
    You’ll continue to enjoy all the benefits that come with your status, and you can earn a higher status through lower elite qualification requirements this year.”

  18. SUPERTRAVEL

    July 12, 2020 at 12:58 pm

    Not sure how AA was harmed in passengers opening up multiple credit cards over time, probably under slightly different last names. Perhaps Citi was harmed, but not the airline. And presumably the spend requirements (Spend $3000 during first 3 months) were met to get the bonus miles too. Citi purchased the miles at a profit to AA, so I don’t see how AA can claim fraud.

  19. jrpallante

    July 12, 2020 at 8:17 pm

    This article makes me suspicious of the complainant, but I know from personal experience that Citi encourages customers to get multiple cards. I’m that OCD guy who actually reads the fine print for each credit card. Citi’s rules state that you can only earn a bonus on one personal card. Many years ago, a few months after applying for my first Citi Platinum card, they sent me an invitation by snail mail for a pre-approved Gold Card with another bonus. They knew very well that I had already received a bonus on the first card, yet they actively pursued me to get another card. Am I at fault for accepting the unsolicited offer?

  20. azmojo

    July 15, 2020 at 3:07 pm

    Would be nice if they would detail the customer’s fraud allegation. Getting multiple AA credit cards is not fraud. I have several myself.

  21. Dubai Stu

    July 23, 2020 at 4:16 am

    I noticed that four days after American Airlines filed their answer, the Borges (now by counsel) withdrew their Complaint.

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