I read Department of Transportation filings for fun, because I’m weird (and what’s covered in them is often relevant to what I write about, but I’m still weird). 😉
Anyway, if you’re not someone who usually reads this stuff, you need to make an exception. American Airlines has responded to a customer complaint filed with the Department of Transportation, and I’ve never seen anything like this before.
Many AAdvantage accounts have been shut down
First a bit of background. Late last year American Airlines shut down quite a few AAdvantage frequent flyer accounts. This involved people signing up for an excessive number of Citi credit cards.
There were a few methods at play here:
- Citi was sending out credit card offers with better terms to new AAdvantage members, so some people signed up for multiple new accounts
- Those offers could be used by other people, so many people were opening up multiple Citi cards
- This was a pretty widespread scheme, so not everyone can be bunched together here; I do believe some people legitimately got “caught up” in this, while others knew exactly what they were doing
American had finally cracked down on this on a widespread basis, and many people weren’t happy.
Consumers can file complaints with the DOT
If you file a complaint directly with an airline and aren’t pleased with the response, one option is to file a Department of Transportation complaint against the airline. What’s the benefit of that?
- The number of DOT complaints filed against an airline is recorded, and airlines want to keep the number down
- The DOT gives airline representatives the chance to provide their side of the story regarding the issue, before any decision is made
Usually filing a DOT complaint can be highly effective. Well, there are limits to this, as was proven with how American Airlines responded to a complaint yesterday.
The most amazing DOT airline response ever
Someone who had their AAdvantage account shut down over the above issue decided to file a DOT complaint. You might assume the airline either wouldn’t respond, or would provide a canned response. Truthfully that’s how most DOT complaints are addressed.
Nope, American Airlines responded in a 53-page document that exposes every little thing this person has done. I’ll get into more details below, but the biggest takeaways are:
- Clearly American Airlines is trying to set an example here, because this will likely be enough to prevent others from filing similar complaints
- Many people don’t realize just how much airlines know about you, from how often you’ve called, to how you’ve used their website
- Someone is really, really having fun with writing this response
It’s almost hard to quote specific parts of this filing, because the whole thing is pure gold.
First of all, this is the most colorfully written DOT response I’ve ever read. Usually these filings contain boring technical language, but that’s not the case here:
- “Unhappy that American detected and put the kibosh on the scheme…”
- “The masterminds behind this scheme appear to be the Complainant’s son-in-law and daughter, i.e., her co-fraudsters…”
- “Like a game of whack-a-mole, the son-in-law thereafter opened yet another AAdvantage account…”
- “American maintains that the Complainant or her co-fraudsters, sensing the jig was up…”
Here’s American Airlines’ version of what happened:
- A mother, daughter, and son-in-law created several bogus frequent flyer accounts; the three of them had a total of 16 AAdvantage accounts, not including five additional accounts for the same address under different names
- The three of them had signed up for 45 Citi AAdvantage credit cards over a four year period, earning 1.4 million miles; this doesn’t include the nine Citi cards opened at the same address under different names
- American Airlines caught on and froze all the accounts of the daughter and son-in-law
- Shortly thereafter, all of the miles were redeemed out of the mother’s account, with the passengers for the tickets being the daughter and son-in-law
- Mysteriously, the next month, a letter was sent to American requesting that the mother’s frequent flyer account be closed due to a “security concern”
- At that point there was a schedule change on the ticket for which miles had been redeemed; in order to avoid detection, they created a new frequent flyer account and repeatedly tried to get the miles from the ticket deposited into a different AAdvantage account
- Unhappy they couldn’t get the miles refunded, they filed a DOT complaint
American Airlines’ response to the DOT in regards to this customer complaint is unlike anything I’ve seen. While no doubt some people just got caught up in the Citi AAdvantage situation, it’s pretty clear that the people who filed the complaint knew exactly what they were doing.
Reading this, my biggest takeaway is that I feel like the person named in the complaint may not have been involved at all, or at a minimum wasn’t the mastermind? It almost sounds to me like the daughter and son-in-law were the people behind this, and they just did everything on behalf of the mother. At least everything points towards that.
What do you make of American’s response to this DOT complaint?