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Hayes, USDOT and AA: "fictitious bookings" and checking for upgrade space

Hayes, USDOT and AA: "fictitious bookings" and checking for upgrade space

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Old Feb 14, 17, 9:28 am   -   Wikipost
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Hayes, USDOT and AA: "fictitious bookings" and checking upgrade space


This new thread consolidates a number of pages of posts regarding AA's confiscation of 60,000 miles from Joel Hayes. AA says Hayes made "fictitious" "bookings" when he ran web searches on AA.COM. Hayes says he was only running searches and never requested that any itinerary be put on hold or any inventory reserved.

Link to PDF of USDOT Order of Didmissal of Mr. Hayes' complaint against AA 14 Dec 2016. C/o AndyAA.

[/quote]In our view, it was not a deceptive practice for American to determine that these actions had “all the hallmarks” of a fraudulent attempt to obtain an upgrade and to take adverse action without warning him. Even if American was mistaken about Mr. Hayes’ true motives, this fact standing alone would not rise to the level of a deceptive practice.

We see no basis for questioning the methods by which American’s corporate security department determined that Mr. Hayes’ practice of repeatedly accessing the website’s reservations features so close to the date of departure was designed to hold or block seats. In so concluding, we pass no judgment on whether we believe that Mr. Hayes was in fact intending to misuse the system. Because we have found no evidence of unfair or deceptive practices with respect to American’s fraud-detection methods, we dismiss that element of the complaint.[/quote]

Link to Joel Hayes - Complaint Against American Airlines Inc. (US DOT, on regulations.gov)

The original Account audit / fraud issues - Busted selling miles / SWU / VIP, etc (consolidated) can be found here.

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Old Jun 18, 14, 10:29 am
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Hayes, USDOT and AA: "fictitious bookings" and checking for upgrade space

An interesting read for those that I believe saw his issue a few months back. Long story, short, is that in order to view the seat maps, he made bookings (without the hold or purchase being done) 28 times over a 4 day period as he was trying to see if his upgrade would clear and how many seats were available... AA's answer is there as well:

http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketD...-OST-2014-0077

I would argue I have probably more understanding of the airline world, as well as bookings, booking engines, etc than most people, and to be honest, I never knew that going through those steps creates a PNR and removes inventory BEFORE you even hold or purchase the ticket. I also have on more than one occasion (before finding ExpertFlyer) done exactly what this guy did to view the seat maps, as AA's website is anything but obvious on where to find them.

I also found it interesting that AA offered to settle by putting back his 60,000 mile "penalty" in exchange for a NDA... which he rejected.
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Old Jun 18, 14, 11:15 am
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AA repeatedly claims he made fictitious bookings, but I don't see how any reasonable person would realize a booking had been made. How would someone outside AA possibly know that going through booking steps but stopping short of paying or holding would lead to a seat being taken out of inventory? AA never deals with this issue in its answer.

The issue of when a PNR is created is covered somewhere earlier in this thread. That a PNR is created was not widespread knowledge, to say the least.

OTOH, AA might win on jurisdictional or other technical grounds. It will be interesting to see what happens.

It is often the case that those complaining leave out important facts, but in this case we have AA's answer and the answer does not seem to include any important missing facts.

It seems we've found our first instance of AA security making a mistake.

Last edited by richarddd; Jun 18, 14 at 11:28 am
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Old Jun 18, 14, 11:28 am
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I can well understand that a PNR might be created earlier that one might expect - but what I can't understand is why the system doesn't cancel it shortly afterwards if the transaction is not completed within a certain amount of time? For example, cancel the PNR unless the transaction is completed within 1 hour? Then there is no chance of disputes about inventory spoilage.
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Old Jun 18, 14, 11:32 am
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Originally Posted by imapilotaz View Post
I also found it interesting that AA offered to settle by putting back his 60,000 mile "penalty" in exchange for a NDA... which he rejected.
It appears to me that they offered settlement only after he filed the formal complaint with DOT, which is also interesting.
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Old Jun 18, 14, 11:40 am
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Originally Posted by imapilotaz View Post
...I would argue I have probably more understanding of the airline world, as well as bookings, booking engines, etc than most people, and to be honest, I never knew that going through those steps creates a PNR and removes inventory BEFORE you even hold or purchase the ticket. I also have on more than one occasion (before finding ExpertFlyer) done exactly what this guy did to view the seat maps, as AA's website is anything but obvious on where to find them...
Originally Posted by richarddd View Post
AA repeatedly claims he made fictitious bookings, but I don't see how any reasonable person would realize a booking had been made. How would someone outside AA possibly know that going through booking steps but stopping short of paying or holding would lead to a seat being taken out of inventory? ..
Yeah, I'm quite inclined to agree. It's why a few weeks back in this thread I had indicated that things were turning up that I found very odd and hard to explain/defend-- in this exact area-- the fictitious bookings enforcement (obviously excluding the folks that bough sham refundable tickets to satisfy minimum spend for cards, etc..)

Last edited by JonNYC; Jun 18, 14 at 11:47 am
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Old Jun 18, 14, 11:41 am
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Originally Posted by stargold View Post
I can well understand that a PNR might be created earlier that one might expect - but what I can't understand is why the system doesn't cancel it shortly afterwards if the transaction is not completed within a certain amount of time? For example, cancel the PNR unless the transaction is completed within 1 hour? Then there is no chance of disputes about inventory spoilage.
AA says he created no less than 28 fictitious reservation records resulting in 45 seats being removed from inventory for a total of over 41 hours (page 2-3). That would be about 1.5 hours per action.
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Old Jun 18, 14, 11:44 am
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Originally Posted by stargold View Post
what I can't understand is why the system doesn't cancel it shortly afterwards if the transaction is not completed within a certain amount of time? For example, cancel the PNR unless the transaction is completed within 1 hour?
Cancel after an hour? If I leave AA.com idle for more than 3-4 minutes the next click results in an INVALID STATE ERROR.
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Old Jun 18, 14, 12:15 pm
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Does this mean every time I do a search for flights and pricing, it is tracked, even if I don't complete it as a booking? I may do several searches before making a decision to book and buy. Or must I actually go to the stage of inputting passenger details before AA can identify and actually consider a seat taken out of inventory?
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Old Jun 18, 14, 12:33 pm
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Originally Posted by Shareholder View Post
Does this mean every time I do a search for flights and pricing, it is tracked, even if I don't complete it as a booking? I may do several searches before making a decision to book and buy. Or must I actually go to the stage of inputting passenger details before AA can identify and actually consider a seat taken out of inventory?
AA absolutely tracks you when you are logged in, by cookies or by IP address... once you get to the passenger information screen, a PNR is apparently created, which just blows me away. Back when I made a deal with SABRE for a smaller regional airline, the agreement was a per booking fee, (not ticketed), so technically those would cost me money (not by any stretch saying that's how AA's works). Just surprised you would create a PNR before there's any intent display to actually purchase. It would be as if you are at Best Buy and pick up a Ipad to look more closely at and Best Buy creates a record of intent to purchase at that point. It's just bizarre.

I'll make 4-5x as many of those "queries" as actual bookings... sometimes for days on end to see if fares are staying flat before I pull the trigger on the trip (or do the rolling holds).

I sure hope AA doesnt think I'm creating any fraudulent bookings, but then again, their algorithm would probably say its normal for me.
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Old Jun 18, 14, 1:04 pm
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Originally Posted by imapilotaz View Post
AA absolutely tracks you when you are logged in, by cookies or by IP address...
They also use cookies to "remember" who you are without logging in. I'm not sure if it's still the case, but the seat maps would previously show, or not show, elite-only seats depending on whether the last person logged on to aa.com from that browser had status or not.
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Old Jun 18, 14, 1:59 pm
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Isn't there also wording to the effect (I'm afraid to touch their website and look) that the price is not guaranteed until you click "Purchase" and can change at any time? So they reserve the right to change the price before you purchase, but YOU are considered to have made a purchase before you have purchased?

I would also challenge them to put their website in front of anyone who is not a regular AA flyer and ask them to show how to look at seats. That expandable (+) is what confused me up several months ago.

With this latest lawsuit I'm wondering if the few times I tried to check my seats (which I mentioned upwind in this thread, where I was also told I had nothing to worry about) will be an issue. I was just checking to see if better seats in coach had become available, not to see about upgrading.

Is it just taking it inadvertently out of F inventory that was a problem, or Y, too?
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Old Jun 18, 14, 2:27 pm
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Originally Posted by richarddd View Post
AA says he created no less than 28 fictitious reservation records resulting in 45 seats being removed from inventory for a total of over 41 hours (page 2-3). That would be about 1.5 hours per action.
Saw that too. I expect that the system transiently holds space between when you select a flight/fare and when you either hold or abandon it.

This is, of course, unknowable to the user- nor is it disclosed by AA anywhere.

AA's system might have a 'sloppy' expiration process- so even after the quote is abandoned the space is still indicating 'held'...

Question: Does expertflyer for example show a reduction in F or J when you are doing one of these transient activities?

Answer: Looks like yes..I looked at a date in July and found F3A2..then went through the activity described...and rechecked EF and it was decremented to F2A1.

(Cookies be damned.... why am I now nervous??)

Originally Posted by imapilotaz View Post
AA absolutely tracks you when you are logged in, by cookies or by IP address... once you get to the passenger information screen, a PNR is apparently created, which just blows me away. Back when I made a deal with SABRE for a smaller regional airline, the agreement was a per booking fee, (not ticketed), so technically those would cost me money (not by any stretch saying that's how AA's works). Just surprised you would create a PNR before there's any intent display to actually purchase. It would be as if you are at Best Buy and pick up a Ipad to look more closely at and Best Buy creates a record of intent to purchase at that point. It's just bizarre.
I could see a need for this- what if there were 9 people trying to buy the last 3 seats on a flight? Each potential buyer is inputting their info, and then and clicks 'Hold' or 'purchase'- 6 of them get 'error' messages.
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Old Jun 18, 14, 2:33 pm
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Originally Posted by Exec_Plat View Post
Saw that too. I expect that the system transiently holds space between when you select a flight/fare and when you either hold or abandon it.

This is, of course, unknowable to the user- nor is it disclosed by AA anywhere.

AA's system might have a 'sloppy' expiration process- so even after the quote is abandoned the space is still indicating 'held'...

Question: Does expertflyer for example show a reduction in F or J when you are doing one of these transient activities?

Answer: Looks like yes..I looked at a date in July and found F3A2..then went through the activity described...and rechecked EF and it was decremented to F2A1.

(Cookies be damned.... why am I now nervous??)



I could see a need for this- what if there were 9 people trying to buy the last 3 seats on a flight? Each potential buyer is inputting their info, and then and clicks 'Hold' or 'purchase'- 6 of them get 'error' messages.
Except in almost all commerce online, they specifically state that until the purchase is completed, the order is subject to availability. It's not common, but certainly have had times on Amazon when it showed 1 item left, and by the time I finally checked out, it was gone. It certainly didnt create a hold on that product after I put it in my cart.

Anyone have experience with the other majors? I know that several of the smaller airlines I've run or oversaw the online sales definitely DID NOT have that feature. Nothing was created until a purchase was made and at that point inventory was debited.
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Old Jun 18, 14, 2:47 pm
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Originally Posted by imapilotaz View Post
Except in almost all commerce online, they specifically state that until the purchase is completed, the order is subject to availability. It's not common, but certainly have had times on Amazon when it showed 1 item left, and by the time I finally checked out, it was gone. It certainly didnt create a hold on that product after I put it in my cart.
I don't think that would be acceptable in this case, because when one gets to the point of selecting a specific seat they would likely be rather unhappy if the website then told them that the reservation couldn't be completed. My guess is that a temporary hold is created on entering the seat selection process. However, it should be possible to detect an abandoned booking and release the hold in much less time than an hour.
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Old Jun 18, 14, 3:38 pm
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I read the complaint and AA's response. Interesting. I wonder if this business of creating the rezzie before the customer asks for same is in any way responsible for the oft described problem (and one which I encounter all the time) where in TPAC flights, no matter which flight option you choose from the availability display, the system returns and says that those flights are no longer available, please select another. Then this keeps repeating until there are no available flights shown for the desired routing. (At which point I go over to the HKG AA site which works fine.)
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