Frequent Fliers Fight Back: California Couple Sues American Airlines Over Massive Miles Clawback
Frequent Fliers Fight Back: California Couple Sues American Airlines Over Massive Miles Clawback - The Case of the Vanishing Miles
For decades, loyal American Airlines customers could rely on the AAdvantage miles they accumulated to provide awards and perks on future travel. But in recent years, many have accused the airline of making it much more difficult to use miles, with some even claiming their balances have dropped through no fault of their own.
That’s what happened to California couple Lori and Michael Plafker. Avid AA flyers since the 1980s, they had accumulated hundreds of thousands of AAdvantage miles through credit cards and frequent flights over the years. But in March 2022, they claim their balances suddenly plummeted overnight with no warning or explanation from the airline. Michael’s balance dropped from 305,506 to just 72 miles, while Lori saw her 352,525 miles vanish entirely.
Shocked and outraged, the Plafkers reached out to American Airlines repeatedly for an explanation but were met only with vague claims of “account adjustments.” The couple alleges no notification was given about changes to the program’s terms and conditions that would lead to such a drastic mileage reduction.
Their experience echoes many recent complaints about American’s handling of the AAdvantage program. While miles don’t actually “expire” under the current policy, the airline has implemented mileage “expiration” dates and other rules that make older miles difficult to use. Fliers accuse AA of deliberately devaluing miles and making award seats very limited, particularly after the merger with US Airways in 2013.
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- Frequent Fliers Fight Back: California Couple Sues American Airlines Over Massive Miles Clawback - The Case of the Vanishing Miles
- Frequent Fliers Fight Back: California Couple Sues American Airlines Over Massive Miles Clawback - AA Accused of “Bait and Switch” on Loyalty Program
Frequent Fliers Fight Back: California Couple Sues American Airlines Over Massive Miles Clawback - AA Accused of “Bait and Switch” on Loyalty Program
The Plafkers are not alone in feeling duped by changes to American’s loyalty program. AA has been accused of a “bait and switch” in how they’ve handled AAdvantage mileage, luring customers in with the promise of benefits only to move the goalposts later.
Many point to generous sign-up bonuses and mileage-earning structures on co-branded credit cards as a prime example. Customers are enticed to open AA cards like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® which currently offers 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Cardholders then earn 2x miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.
But fliers allege the value of those miles has dropped significantly as American made award seats scarce, increased the cost of awards, and added major restrictions. Loyal customers feel they were misled into paying high annual fees for cards and airline spend for miles that are now extremely difficult to redeem.
Jalijah Tinsley of Michigan tells of earning over 350,000 miles through an AA credit card, only to have award flights he booked 9 months in advance suddenly canceled by the airline weeks before his trip. He was unable to rebook with miles and feels the program has become “useless” for award travel.
Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and author of the book Cockpit Confidential, has called airline loyalty programs a “farce” and blasted American for hollow promises of exceptional service, convenience, and rewards for frequent fliers.
Many point out the irony that airlines themselves collect hefty fees from banks for miles awarded through co-branded credit cards. Yet loyal fliers are unable to cash in those same miles for the flights they were promised.
Adding further insult to injury are policies allowing AA to delete miles from accounts with no activity after just 18 months. Critics allege this amounts to theft from loyal customers under the guise of an “expiration policy.”
Consumer advocates argue the lack of transparency and accountability in loyalty programs amounts to fraud against consumers, who invest time and money chasing rewards only to have programs gutted after the fact. More regulation may be needed to protect fliers from flagrant “bait-and-switch” tactics.