American Airlines And The Points Guy Are Suing Each Other

American Airlines has been clamping down on websites that work with AAdvantage member data for their customers. They made Award Wallet stop tracking member accounts and they sent a cease and desist letter to Red Ventures, which owns The Points Guy, over its TPG app which – among other things – lets customers track their frequent flyer program balances.

The app didn’t have authorized access to American AAdvantage accounts. Instead, as I understand it, it had been ‘screen scraping’ accounts for members, who provide their login credentials. American sought to stop the practice, and so Red Ventures first sued American Airlines seeking declaratory relief. And now American Airlines and its loyalty subsidiary have countersued in the Northern District of Texas.

[Attorneys led by] Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher .. accuse[..] The Point Guy of accessing AAdvantage members accounts through its mobile application in alleged violation of American’s terms and conditions. The suit further contends that The Point Guy’s app displays American’s trademarks and copyrights without permission or licensing.

An American Airlines spokesperson offers,

Red Ventures is accessing AA.com and AAdvantage customer account data in a way that does not comply with our standards for use of confidential information. We have been in discussions with Red Ventures, hoping to amicably resolve the issues, and we were surprised when Red Ventures filed its lawsuit last Tuesday. We take customer data and proprietary information incredibly seriously, and want to make sure it is protected and secure.

When American Airlines forced Award Wallet to stop tracking AAdvantage accounts two things seemed clear:

  1. The issue wasn’t security, since Award Wallet and American had a security protocol in place, and access via an API. The Points Guy app wasn’t doing the same thing, but American has a path to address any security concerns while allowing members to manage their accounts as they choose.
  2. The interest was monetization of customer eyeballs, an American Airlines source shared that they wanted customers checking accounts at AA.com where they could be marketed to.

I spoke with Brian Kelly, who founded The Points Guy and Brian shared he views the crucial issue as “a consumer should have the right to track their points.”

He noted that on April 1, 2022 American will start expiring miles again, so he finds the move against sites which help members keep track of their miles to be curiously timed, although I don’t believe that’s a motivation in the way pushing members to AAdvantage marketing channels appears to be.

Brian shared that they haven’t received cease and desist letters from any other loyalty program – including United and Delta which have pushed back on other third parties accessing their data.

I’d actually love to see the question of whether American AAdvantage website terms and conditions preclude third party access to the site, or use of account credentials supplied to them by the members themselves, litigated to a conclusion. The parent company of The Points Guy certainly has the resources to prosecute this if they ultimately follow that path.

Red Ventures owns CNet, Lonely Planet, Bankrate and numerous other websites and reportedly over 3000 employees and a valuation in excess of $11 billion, making its CEO Ric Elias – a passenger on US Airways 1549 – worth over $2 billion personally. And they’ve taken an aggressive stance by filing suit first.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It will be interesting to see TPG coverage of American as these lawsuits work their way through the system.

  2. ““a consumer should have the right to track their points.”

    Geez, what childish reasoning. A consumer can still track AA miles/points with the AA site/app.

  3. Gary, is this sentence missing an ending?

    “I’d actually love to see the question of whether American AAdvantage website terms and conditions preclude third party access to the site, or use of account credentials supplied to them by the members themselves.”

    ie. did you mean to say “I’d actually love … to see that litigated” (or similar sentiment.) ?

  4. Since I a very high point holder in AA Advantage, I need to have my points tracked frequently and have updates. Not find out after the fact my points were missing. Too many stories of stolen.

    It is time now for Top Class Action to be involved.

  5. @Gary: AA’s reasoning for a violation could be used to prevent you checking your wife’s AA account on her behalf and with her permission. They are going to lose this.

  6. What do the AAdvantage terms and conditions state? Typically, programs state that the data belongs to the program. The property right belongs to the program and the member has a limited-use license. As such, the program grants access of ITS data to the member. But, the program does not allow its data to be shared by the member with a third party. A program could justifiably state that a violation of this provision is grounds for forfeiture of points and closure of one’s account.

    Don’t believe it? Just take a look at AMEX MR terms and conditions. Amex owns the points. The cardholder has NO property rights in the points.

  7. I wonder if this will spill over to AA’s relationship with ExpertFlyer, which is also owned by RedVentures.

  8. Even after all these years, I do not understand why someone allows a third party to access to their loyalty programs. Is it seriously that burdensome to beam up a website directly and check the status of your points and miles? Do people not realize that a problem with their points/miles will be twice as difficult to solve if there are 3 parties involved? When someone uses your points to buy $250K of Amazon gift cards over a two-week period, do you really want to deal with your ‘wallet’ people as well as the bank, airline or hotel? Working directly with Chase, it was all handled in ten days with minimal angst. Why do people want a third party involved in their loyalty programs? I just don’t get it.

  9. The fact that AA doesn’t even let AwardWallet scrape it’s emails seems ludicrous to me. I’m no attorney and could be totally off base, but it seems absurd that AA could actually have the legal right to do this. Accessing the data through AA.com I understand, but through a personal email I forward into the app?!

  10. Interesting to me is that Red Ventures sued first, presumably somewhere other than Texas. I suspect that AA’s suit will either be dismissed or transferred to the other jurisdiction. First in time is first in right.

  11. TPG was a nice, simple, and honest site when it was a blog by Mr. Kelly. Now it is an aggregation of slop, presented with journalism verbiage in articles that bring little information and contain 10x more words than necessary.

    And the snowflakes turned off comments there. That says it all.

  12. I wouldn’t have discovered 2 thefts of over a million miles and points each for months if it hadn’t been for Award Wallet.
    American wants you to subscribe to their emails to see your balance pushed to you.

  13. @Marco – Kelly was the snowflake that killed off the comments after the disastrous AMA fiasco. He has complete editorial control.

    With some information that has leaked out about the toxic environment at TPG, I guess they figured that limiting interaction was the way to go.

  14. To those wondering why anyone would need a 3rd party tool to track your miles instead of checking it your self. Well… you must be new to this game of collecting points and miles. I play the game in 4+ player mode… often 6+… that’s my family of 4 plus my parents and one in law. That’s 7 AA accounts to track. I’m type of user a tool like AwardWallet and Mint is intended for. My AwardWallet is tracking 68 accounts and don’t get me started on Mint. That’s Not including AA and United accounts. At least I can track some of Delta accounts through Amex logins.

  15. Ditto. My AwardWallet is tracking 48 accounts, of which roughly half belong to my immediate family. It is a PITA to manually update WN and now I guess I will have to do that for AA too. Normally would not care as we rarely fly AA but if points expire then we will have to do some shopping miles and track those points.

    Would be great to see AAdvantage slapped down but that’s a fantasy given legal precedent which bends over to cater to the airlines.

  16. If AA were smart, they would let third party apps into their data in exchange for the ability to push ads into the third party apps.

  17. “Why does it matter that the CEO was on US Air 1539?”

    Uhhh. What became of US Airways?

  18. It’s a reassuring nod to equity to see these 2 C- organizations waste money going after each other.

    Party on, folks!

  19. Maybe I just don’t understand this. From an economic and brand awareness standpoint, shouldn’t AA be in favor of ANYTHING that drives interest in tracking and accumulating AA miles or loyalty points, whether internal to AA or external ? And furthermore I have to wonder about the reasoning behind spats like this. Before seeing this blog post I had never heard of “Award Wallet” or of the TPG app in question. Guess what I’m about to google next to see what it’s all about and whether I might benefit from it ? Thanks AA for publicizing something you don’t like that I was previously unaware of and now may very well put to use to help me manage my customer experience with you. Maybe you should have let sleeping dogs lie,

  20. If the desire is to market to their members, perhaps TPG and AA could have amicably resolved this with AA providing API access to point balances in exchange for a defined amount of inline advertising, control over app verbiage on that page, and maybe a few push notifications.

  21. He [TPG] noted that on April 1, 2022 American will start expiring miles again, so he finds the move against sites which help members keep track of their miles to be curiously timed…

    The cynic in me agrees that the timing is curious. What do you do when you accidentally sell your miles for $0.004 each and folks acquire millions of them? Either you devalue massively and face a backlash, or you work surreptitiously to expire many times more miles than you’d initially intended to …by restricting access to venues that alert members that their points are about to expire and how long they have to prevent that from happening.

  22. If American wins, there will be even more pressure for legislative action to protect consumers from the one-sided contracts of adhesion known as ff program terms and conditions.

  23. I’m with those who have dozens of accounts to track. Yes, if you’re only an AA loyalist and only care about those particular points it’s easy enough to log into AA frequently and keep track that way. The value of Award Wallet is the ability to get updated information on lots of accounts quickly and see right away if anything is wrong, not posting as it should, gone missing, or more happily when points do post so that I can use them. Having to go to each website one by one would be a time consuming, tedious task. I hope TPG wins the suit.

  24. I can’t see Red Ventures winning this and I will say that apparently AA spares no expense when it comes to law firms – Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

  25. @marc “Why does it matter that the CEO was on US Air 1539?”

    US Airways 1549 was the Miracle on the Hudson. I think Gary is just reminding readers that the CEO of Red Ventures has the same ice-cold Hudson river nerves coursing through his body as the unwavering and superhuman Sully Sullenberger. So basically AA suing Red Ventures might as well be AA suing America itself.

    I mean basically AA hates America. Case closed.

  26. As much as I’m not a fan of TPG since they took the Bow Tie Guy route I understand AA’s need to try and protect privacy, cyber security, etc. but it’s very customer unfriendly. Much like Southwest not allowing (or having the IT that is able to allow)searching on Google Flights. As I continue to see travel companies do stuff like this, it seems like stupid timing. Our loyalty is on hold and as travel demand picks up we are in a new free-agent market like we haven’t seen since the 1980s. It’s less customer-friendly than the pop-up videos and bottom banners on BoardingArea.

  27. @DaninMCI – Southwest not searchable on Google Flights is intentional. They do not publish fares to third parties because they don’t want to pay the commission on them. It’s not an IT issue at all.

    Because they don’t publish fares, third parties can’t get the feed of information and things like Google Flights, Expedia, etc can’t price or sell southwest.

  28. Good for American. Why in the world would someone allow access to your account? Whether it is with Mint, Quicken, Award Wallet or anyone else? The more access means the more chances of your account being hacked. It is stupid to allow anyone else except yourself to have access to your account.

    If AwardWallet was really interested in helping you to track your miles, they would allow manual tracking, which they stopped doing. Trying adding a new account and see what options you have.

  29. This issue is much bigger than AA or TPG. As a consumer I should have the right to allow any person or any device access to data that I have been authorized to access. If AA has the ability to restrict this then they could also tell you that you can no longer use the Chrome browser, or your phone, or whatever other means you may use to get your data. (Practical rules for rate-limiting or preventing abuse are fine.)

  30. I can’t believe I’m pulling for TPG but I am. Hell must have frozen over.
    The point is that I want to control who has access to my data and if I choose to have a 3rd point data aggregator for MY convenience then it is MY risk and MY right. Both companies suck and could care less about us, the points traveler, but I am on the side of TPG for the principle.

    And, yeah, the timing (vis a vis resumption of points expiration) smells fishy to me too.

  31. Could you imagine two less sympathetic parties or worse, being called to sit on a jury for them?

    The line “I’m concerned about points theft” speaks to awful personal security practices. If you’re a publisher of content you have to take even more steps to secure your identity. A points tracking app is a laughably reactive non-solution.

  32. All of you who say “just check the website/app” either not travel much or are newbies to the award game.

    It’s a pain in the ass to check a handful of programs, let alone dozens of airlines, hotels programs, etc. Aggregate apps and websites make the process way easier and l make it less likely for you to lose points to expiration. American Airlines’ refusal to allow sites to display data that you explicitly give access to is an obvious cash grab because 1) American Airlines wants to take even more money off of you by forcing you to go through there site/app and 2) they want you to forget about your points so your points to expire and they don’t have to honor free flights.

    I , for one, want TPG to win on this fight.

  33. Gary, you said Red Ventures has the deep pockets to prosecute …

    They don’t prosecute. They hire lawyers to act as their attorneys to prosecute on their behalf.

    #copyediting

  34. Good for AA! Websites scraping my data including emails are co considered PII in many countries and states.
    TPG had turned into Nothing more than a self serving marketing site and Brian actually know less.than most people here, just watching his numerous interviews and you’ll notice he talks around the questions never giving a real answer.
    TPG could fold tomorrow and it would be NO loss of to most.

  35. Consumers should be able to have 3rd party apps track their American frequent flyer miles, however, it’s ridiculous for TPG to say it is a right. AA has a right to ban non approved 3rd party apps from accessing its frequent flyer account website. It’s crazy we live in a world where TPG or any lawyer would entertain the thought of suing a company for not allowing something it has every right to not allow. It would be different if AA banned frequent flyers from manually inputting their data on a 3rd party app or using a 3rd party app that scans the mileage balance when the frequent flyer manually browses the AA page. This is absurd. It shows why the legal system is corrupted to the core.

  36. Web browser: an app that requests data from a server and renders it. For websites that require authentication, the browser requests the credentiaks from the user and passes them on to the server. The web browser may offer to store the credentials for user convenience. The web browser may also cache data received from the server for subsequent or offline use.

    The TPG app seems to essentially be doing this, just in a more targeted/focused form.

    From a technology perspective, it seems like a dangerous precedent for AA to limit what a browser can do with the data received from its servers. Especially if it is data about the user who chose to the browser.

    I have written scraper scripts that fetch my account balances from various programs and store them in a database on my own machine. Basically the same thing AA is trying to disallow. How is it different from me using Firefox to manually browse to my account balances and then record it in a spreadsheet?

    (I can’t believe I am defending TPG and AwardWallet)

  37. Prosecution is criminal. Civil cases are generally referred to as litigation, although technically criminal cases are also litigated. So the correct (common) phrasing would be “Red Ventures has the deep pockets to litigate…”

  38. If an employer gives their assistant the employer’s AA login info to make flight arrangements & keep tabs on miles for them does that violate AA TOS ? Maybe AA should sue them both. We wouldn’t want the assistant rather than the flier being the recipient of whatever AA advertising may be on the site. Isn’t that essentially what this is about, but on a different scale ?

    Also I am confused by some of the comments here – is TPG doing this for EVERYONE who has an AA account, whether they have asked for the service or not ? Or only those who sign up for the particular TPG service? The way I read the post was the latter – an AAAdvantage member downloads the app, and enables tracking of their Advantage account by the app – which I am sure requires various consent clicks. Many of the posters are suggesting that what TPG is doing is nefarious, or an invasion of privacy, but how could a case be made for that if those who are using this service are consenting ?

  39. “Prosecution” is more commonly associated with criminal cases, but is not limited to that context, in the USA at least. When an inventor comes up with something new, we say that he hires “prosecution counsel” to prosecute the patent application. And it is not atypical to say that a particular lawyer or firm is prosecuting a civil case. In many state court civil legal systems there is a process called a “DWOP” – dismissal for want of prosecution – which is when the party which brought the suit is not moving the case forward, or does not appear to be. In the civil litigation context the term would be used to apply to the plaintiff’s side of the case. Unless there are counterclaims against the nominal plaintiff, in which case the lawyers for the defense side would prosecute their claims.

  40. Okay, just checked with my resident expert, who regularly does legal work in this area. Their opinion is that technically, AA is in the right, but they’re being stupid, they just need to make a deal with third party vendors about the terms and conditions of the third party access to AA computers. That’s really where the line is drawn – you, the consumer own the data on AA’s computers. You can share that data with anyone. But access to the system is owned by AA, and they get to share the terms and conditions of that access. AA really doesn’t care about one time access by your assistant, they do care about someone coming in and wholesale tromping through their databases, even if they have the permission of all the owner’s of the data.

    This is all probably some sort of posturing before a deal is reached. AA wants to get paid, Red Ventures wants it for free, happiness lies somewhere in-between.

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