A friend of mine is traveling soon on a long-anticipated vacation to Europe. He also frequently travels for work, and has Platinum status with American. He bought these tickets to Europe back in October, and immediately got on the upgrade list. While the upgrade for the trip back cleared quickly, the outbound still hasn’t cleared. As his trip draws near, he has been going to the AA site and checking to see how many business class seats are still available. This didn’t seem odd to me, as I do the same thing when my Manila trips get close.
Yesterday, his password stopped working on the app and the website. Freaking out, as his trip is this weekend, he spent several hours calling Aadvantage customers service only for people to repeatedly hang up on him. Eventually someone told him that a supervisor would email him instructions on how to reset his passwords. When the email came, it instead told him that he had violated the AA.com site usage and Aadvantage Program Conditions by engaging in “seat blocking” and that they were penalizing him 60k points, kicking him off the outbound upgrade list, and that he was lucky they weren’t kicking him out of the Aadvantage program.
Here’s the thing. This is the nicest guy ever. Like, help little old ladies across the street and bring random presents for my baby and help anyone who ever needed it kind of nice. He’s also an incredibly hard worker and very honest, and would never have done this if he knew it was considered fraud. He was just super excited about his trip and wanted to find out if there were still seats available.
I did some internet searches last night, and the only episodes I could find where American penalized or closed accounts due to fraud were all about selling or buying miles. I can promise my friend has not been engaging in this behavior. I can also say that he flies American two or three times every single month and spends a ton of money with them. While I understand that they have policies in place, he broke those policies on a complete accident and has been a loyal, frequent customer for years. To me, the punishment far outweighs the crime.
Does anyone have any experience with this type of situation? Has anyone heard of a verdict like this being reversed? And is there a way to check and see if there are business class seats available without accidentally “blocking” them?
Here is the letter from American to my friend and his response. I deleted any identifying information. My friend sent his response yesterday around 7pm and hasn’t received a response yet.
My name is [Redacted] and I am an analyst with American Airlines.
I would like to alert you that AAdvantage account #[redacted] was suspended today because Corporate Security has detected the fictitious bookings on [flight to Europe] on [travel date]. All of the bookings were Business Class bookings, and some of them also included First Class seats from [home city to DFW].
[List of “aliases”.]
Our investigation indicates that you or someone acting on your behalf, created the fictitious reservations for First and Business Class seats on flights in which you are ticketed in coach class and upgrades were desired.
These First and Business class bookings were systematically booked from January 8, 2014 to today (March 20, 2014) to block premium seats for the sole purpose of obtaining AAdvantage upgrades.
The last one way Business Class booking on [flight to Europe] was created at 3:24pm CT today. The base value for this seat (as booked) is $7,491.00.
The AA.Com Site Usage agreement clearly prohibits the use of the website to book false reservations. In addition, the General AAdvantage® Program Conditions prohibit, among other things, fraud, misrepresentation, abuse, or any other violation of the airline’s applicable rules, including but not limited to the conditions of carriage, which specifically prohibit creating bookings to hold or block seats for the purpose of obtaining a seat that may not otherwise be available.
In lieu of termination, AAdvantage account #[redacted] has been assessed a penalty of 60,000 miles.
Please note that you will not be able to utilize any upgrade products on your outbound from [outbound itinerary] on Friday. Your return upgrade on [date of return] will remain intact.
The restriction on AAdvantage account #[redacted] has been released, and you will have access effective immediately.
Please note that any future violations of the General AAdvantage Program Conditions or AA.com site usage agreement may result in the immediate termination of your AAdvantage membership benefits.
Mr. [redacted], we value your business and years of loyalty to American Airlines.
We would like nothing more than to continue to reward you for your business and loyalty for many years to come.
However, in return, we must insist that you adhere to the guidelines of our program.
We trust you will agree that participating in the AAdvantage program is worth it.
American Airlines Corporate Security
Revenue Protection Analyst
And my friend’s response:
First, let me apologize and thank you for clearing up for me what happened today.
I need to please clarify that you were taking me for smarter than I actually am regarding ‘blocking seats’ for the upgrades…? I was only trying to see how many seats were still available in business because I was excited about the chance for the upgrade and would check to see how it looked. I honestly had no idea I was violating any terms of service or doing anything wrong- or I would have never done so.
I’m a good guy, who was just excited about his vacation trip, and the chance for an outbound upgrade- I wouldn’t even know how to block seats or how you were referring to it being done :/
My first intent with the letter is to apologize for any inconvenience or difficulties created on AA’s side- that was the last of my intentions. Again, I was only excited about a possibility of being upgraded, I had no idea I was violating anything, or doing something ‘wrong’ – I never intentionally would have.
I would also ask regarding the 60,000 miles taken away– I understand that you need to do what you need to do on your end. I’m just asking is there any leeway on it? Again, I’m a good guy who had no idea what I apparently was messing up with this.
I appreciate you reading this- and, again, I’m sorry for whatever mishaps I created on your end. None of them were intentional or knowing – just a guy trying to see how it looks for a chance at an upgrade.