American AAdvantage Accounts Closed Over Car Rental Receipts

Filed Under: American

American Airlines has one of the most active corporate security departments when it comes to shutting down accounts, and it looks like American is now shutting down AAdvantage accounts for a new reason.

The AAdvantage car rental scam

The always knowledgable @xJonNYC notes that American Airlines is terminating AAdvantage accounts right now over car rental receipts submitted for mileage credit. The basic concept is that:

  • AAdvantage miles ordinarily expire after 18 months of inactivity
  • If your AAdvantage miles expire, one way to undo that is to see if any activity didn’t post to your account, which would keep your miles from expiring
  • American AAdvantage has some car rental partners, and the car rental industry is rather low tech in many ways
  • Some people submitted car rental receipts from alleged past rentals to reinstate miles, and those accounts are now being closed

For those wondering how this is possible:

  • I suspect there were a few people behind this, who probably offered to help people reinstate their miles for “free” (in exchange for a fee, of course)
  • So much of the travel industry has outdated technology, and that’s especially the case in the car rental industry, so chances are this could go on for a long time without anyone noticing, since AAdvantage likely wasn’t even verifying the legitimacy of the receipts
  • Car rentals earn a very limited number of miles, so on the surface this seemed like chump change to the airline, which is probably why they didn’t look at this more closely; I would guess they didn’t even realize miles were being reactivated because of this activity
  • I would guess there was a certain repetition to the submissions that raised some red flags, and that caused an investigation

Unlike some past controversial shutdowns, this seems pretty straightforward and fair, assuming they only shut down accounts that they’re certain engaged in this activity.

The more controversial AAdvantage shutdown

In late 2019 American made headlines for the ways in which they were closing down AAdvantage accounts.

Essentially Citi had been sending out mailers for credit card bonuses without the usual restrictions on how often you can earn the bonus. People figured out the patterns and applied for a lot of cards as a result.

The catch is that this was much more complicated than meets the eye. While a lot of people knew exactly what they were doing, others weren’t, and some weren’t even technically breaking the rules.

Bottom line

We don’t know the scale of the new AAdvantage account shutdowns, but it appears that American is closing some accounts for people who used car rental receipts that didn’t belong to them in order to reinstate miles.

I’d speculate that there were some number of people behind this doing this for a large quantity of accounts (I don’t know whether that’s dozens, hundreds, or thousands), and that’s probably how they caught on.

  1. it’s not THAT hard to mass scan the receipts on file.

    1. Car rental firms are mostly in an oligopoly, so you need the same technology for in-house corporate travel to have the itemized receipts sent through (like Concur or similar platforms).

    2. Use OCR software to get the receipt # and high level amounts.

    3. After that, either scan against your own database’s submission for excessive duplication (like the same receipt # more than 5 times), or

    4) have the tech link mentioned in #1 to get back the details and see if they corroborate with what you’ve scanned, and flag the accounts that have a very high number of erroneous matches.

  2. Good for AA. I 100% agree with everything they’ve been doing to stop fraudsters. Love it! If you try to cheat you deserve a closed account. No call, no notice no trial. The miles don’t actually belong to you.

    Lucky. You think people weren’t braking the rules ? You know they were

  3. Good for them. Having worked for an agency that dealt with these programs, the fraud is often off the charts (who knew. . .right). Doing these type of forensics keep the program cost down and award available for those who actually earned them.

    Go get’em AA!

  4. Why wouldn’t you just click through AA Shopping and earn miles for a little purchase, just to keep it active?

  5. @ NAUgrad05 — This scam revolves around reactivating accounts with expired miles, rather than keeping them alive. It’s for people who weren’t doing a very good job watching their accounts.

  6. Every Christmas time, I review airline, hotel, and car rental accounts and do so for a few relatives. I tell the relative suggestions, like to order a magazine or, for me, assign the next car rental to AA or other airline. For me, assigning the car rental to AA is not the best because a car rental point earned from a car rental company is worth more.

  7. My gut tells me that someone on the inside outed this scam. In any event, it’s unbelievable how little most car rental agencies have evolved technologically over the past three decades.

  8. Since other airlines don’t close down inactive accounts any more, it is hard to get excited about ‘scams’ to reactivate accounts. The basic problem is that AA security has been taken over by would-be stormtroopers.

    Until recently, even if you sold miles or something equally reprehensible, they would impose proportionate penalties. Now it is “line them up against the wall and shoot them”.

  9. @Chuck – I agree that on the large scale of all things AAdvantage scams, this is a misdemeanor offense. However, back when the Citi Mailer scam was happening, my hard earned SWUs were expiring unused because premium cabins were filled consistently probably due in no small part to the actions of scammers. I’m fully supportive of AAs strong arm tactics with cheaters. The message needs to get out loud and clear.

  10. For many years the car rental agency’s at Atlantic City used old green screen computers “dos” to geeks.

  11. On one hand, I agree with AA that this is fraud, plain and simple. On the other hand, was this really scaled up so high that it was worth investigating? We all know mileage expiration is just a money grab from the airlines, not a real cost.

  12. Reminds me of working Customer Care for an airline. I would get calls for funeral rates… I would always verify. I once took a call from a kid saying his mom had died; he gave me his brother’s phone number to get the info on the funeral home. So I called his brother. When I explained why I was calling, the woman who answered the phone, replied: That little bastard is going to wish I were dead!

  13. if people really don’t want there miles to expire due to inactivity there is a savings account being offered by Bask Bank. But it pays out interest everyone in miles instead of money. that will keep there miles from expiring and it really does work i have an account.

  14. After reading many forum posts, I have come up with a simple way to determine if something is “fraud” or “a scam” when it comes to miles:
    I am doing it- not a scam
    Somebody else is doing it- total scam

    As with the previous round of shutdowns, AA starts with the most egregious cases, and quietly moves on to even “legitimate” users. AA is a multi-billion dollar company with an army of accountants, attorneys, and IT data staff. Anybody who thinks they have ever pulled one over on the company is deluding themselves. AA did the math and for years it was profitable to sell tons of miles even knowing that some people would play the game better than others. Now they’ve decided to change the rules, probably because of the glut of outstanding miles they happily sold for years. They have every right to do so, but if you’re on this web site keep in mind you are probably exactly the kind of AAdvantage account holder AA would like to get rid of.

    AA is going to continue closing accounts with balances for any possible reason they can think of- celebrate the demise of the latest round of “scammers”, but don’t keep a large balance of miles or you’ll be the next one found in violation of their “terms”.

  15. @Julius Rosen

    It maybe “dos” to people who have no idea what computer is 30 years ago.

    It is not really “DOS” to geeks. To geeks, or people who used enterprise software more than 20 years ago, it is called “AS/400”. Chances are your banks or some government agency is still using them. The problem many still use it is because they can’t find people old enough to know the system and migrate it out without starting from zero.

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