American Airlines plane

Over the past several weeks, there have been reports of American Airlines AAdvantage account shutdowns due to alleged program rule violations. The shutdowns are likely a result of people earning a sign-up bonus multiple times on Citi American Airlines credit cards. In this post, I’ll outline what we know about the American Airlines account shutdowns and why it’s more complicated than it looks.

The Nature of the American Airlines Account Shutdowns

Some American Airlines account holders are noticing that their AAdvantage accounts are locked or shutdown. A locked account means that you can’t redeem miles, and a shutdown is a complete closure of the account and forfeiture of miles. As of now, there are no reports of any locked accounts becoming unlocked. Prior to the shutdown, some award flights booked with American Airlines miles were canceled. For some, this happened in the middle of an itinerary forcing travelers to scramble for a flight home.

Using Citi Mailers to Get Multiple Sign-up Bonuses

If you have an American Airlines AAdvantage account, you’ve likely received a mailer from Citi at some point with an offer for one of their American Airlines credit cards. Over the past few years, these Citi mailers became highly valuable. Instead of waiting 48 months between American Airlines cards, you could keep getting the same card every 3 months. These mailers were in such high demand that there was a marketplace where you could trade or buy Citi AA mailers. It was also possible to create fake American Airlines accounts to generate additional Citi AA mailers.

The Problem with American Airlines Spearheading the Shutdowns

Well, there are several problems so let’s dive in. We have some people using Citi mailers addressed to relatives, some buying them on Reddit, and others creating fake accounts in the hopes that additional mailers would be sent to their address. Personally, I do not think there is anything wrong with using a link from a mailer. First, there was no language in the fine print about the offer not being transferable. Second, if Citi didn’t want people getting multiple sign-up bonuses, then why would they remove the 48-month language? Delta and Amex send mailers for their cards too. However, these mailers only work for a specific person and usually include the “once per lifetime” language. They also send them periodically instead of the borderline harassment that was Citi’s mailing schedule. These are such easy precautions to take. It had to be a conscious decision on Citi’s part not to enact some of these measures.

So the question is, are people simply being shutdown for opening multiple new accounts? And if so, does American Airlines have the right to do this after Citi already approved the credit card?

But What About the Fake Accounts?

The creation of fake accounts is where it gets dicey and American Airlines probably has something here. The problem is that a good portion of people with locked or shutdown accounts didn’t partake in the generation of fake accounts. We don’t know if Citi is in cahoots with American Airlines. If they aren’t, then it’s more likely that the shutdowns are based solely on the number of sign-up bonuses. So again, should American Airlines be doing this if Citi approved people for the cards?

My Take on the American Airlines Account Shutdowns

If the criteria for shutdown is based on the number of sign-up bonuses, then this is a problem that Citi should address rather than American. However, we have no way of knowing what’s going on behind the scenes. Maybe Citi is involved. They could be telling American Airlines that you signed up for another account using a mailer addressed to your wife. I highly doubt the shutdowns are based on this level of investigation. Unfortunately for us, the AAdvantage program terms and conditions are vague for a reason. American Airlines can pretty much do whatever they want in this situation.

In a perfect world, Citi would simply quit it with the mailers and the problem would resolve itself. It’s like mistake fares on airlines. Airlines that honor the mistake fare might take a loss on that flight, but people look upon them more favorably. Citi and American Airlines obviously made a mistake here. The right thing to do in terms of customer service would be to fix it and move on.

On the other hand, credit card churning is all about the loopholes. When I decide to partake in one of these loopholes, I do so knowing that there is a risk involved. In this case, I thought getting to fly Etihad First Class Apartments twice was worth the risk. If my American Airlines account gets shut down, then that’s just part of the game.

Final Thoughts

In short, this is something that Citi should have addressed, and American Airlines’ scorched earth approach is the wrong move. However, based on the AAdvantage membership terms and conditions, American Airlines can do what they want even if it seems wrong and unfair. Regardless of the outcome, I think a good portion of us had a good ride on the gravy train.

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