Scott McCartney ran a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal on moves by American Airlines and Southwest to shut down websites that help you manage your mileage balances.
The two carriers have sent “cease and desist” letters in the past year to several websites that track travelers’ loyalty programs. Southwest argues the third-party sites threaten security of passenger information; American doesn’t want outsiders “scraping” data off its website.
I use AwardWallet and would be very angry at American if the site were forced to no longer track my American miles. I’d genuinely be less interested in collecting American miles, since those points would be more cumbersome to track. A few points here, a few points there, I see my account balance update when I check all of my miles on one website at one time. Adding going to AA.com to my regular routing would be frustrating and taxing, and going less often would mean being less engaged in the program and having greater difficulty noticing the small changes to balances that tell me whether points from specific offers have posted. And since American will no longer be counting miles from any sources towards lifetime elite status beginning December 1, there’s no longer going to be more value in earning American miles through offers than other mileage currencies.
McCartney points out that many airlines don’t just claim that you don’t own your miles, but don’t own your passwords either, and are forbidden to give those out.
But why do the airline programs really care? Southwest claims it is a security issue, having your password given out to another site. But if that were true, why don’t airlines like United and Delta go after these aggregators as well? And why not just require these websites to certify their security standards and indemnify the airline in the case of negligence?
McCartney hints at the real reason:
Frequent-flier program experts say airlines may simply be worried about losing revenue to other websites. When customers log in to check balances, they see advertisements on the airline website and may be tempted by sales and specials. If they go elsewhere to check balances, the airline has lost a sales opportunity.
That, said Southwest’s Mr. Clarkson, is “not the core spirit of why we’re doing it. But there is a residual benefit when we’re the only place they can access the information.”
American says they don’t like the extra load on their servers, but really it’s because “The carrier hopes to upgrade AA.com so members can compare fare prices with mileage requirements, the spokeswoman added” — in other words, don’t take our eyeballs or we can’t control the message and how we sell to them.
Seems antiquated to me to go to court to take away something from your customers that they value.
So what of the status of these mileage tracking sites?
Usingmiles.com pulled American from its website last month, and other sites say they are trying to negotiate with American. AwardWallet, MileWise, GoMiles and others don’t offer tracking for Southwest accounts.
I don’t even have a Southwest account and haven’t flown the airline since 1993. Jonathan Clarkson, the head of the Southwest Airlines frequent flyer program, will definitely be getting some questions during his live Milepoint chat on October 20. I encourage you to take part and share your thoughts with him as well.