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:
- 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.
- 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.