This Frequent Flyer Deserved to Have His Account Shut Down. But Not Everyone Agrees…

Here’s chutzpah — an American AAdvantage Executive Platinum member gets caught making fictitious premium cabin reservations to boost own upgrade changes. American kicks them out of the program. But he argues he should be able to keep the miles and status he had earned from US Airways, since he ‘only’ defrauded American (or only got caught defrauding American).

Carlos Conde is a longtime AAdvantage member, traveling weekly for work and often for leisure, as well. He’d racked up 600,000 miles, 16 eVIP upgrades and had executive platinum status.

He was also a US Airways dividend miles member with elite status.

When the two airlines merged, Conde’s programs were combined into a new AAdvantage account with all miles, status and upgrades. But last month, he was contacted by American Airlines’ “corporate security” department and notified that he had been expelled from not one, but both programs, with virtually no recourse for appeal

American claimed he had been making fictitious premium cabin reservations for flights on which he was traveling, tying up those seats to improve his upgrade changes.

So did he do it?

Conde does not argue too strenuously about this claim and the subsequent termination from the AAdvantage program.

(In fact, he begged forgiveness.)

He wasn’t expelled from ‘both programs’ he was expelled from American AAdvantage, and there is no longer a Dividend Miles program.

He argued that he ought to be able to keep the miles in his account that he had earned via Dividend Miles before the two programs had merged.

American and US Airways are one airline, with a single operating certificate from the government, and even if he only committed fraud against American and not US Airways when he was an elite wanting upgrades on both (unlikely) there’s no way in which he is going to retain status and upgrades in the AAdvantage program ‘because he earned that through US Airways’ when he’s been caught making fake bookings to try to manipulate upgrade inventory.

What’s striking the number of people of who are sympathetic because… corporation.

I’m critical of loyalty programs quite frequently, even the fraud departments of some of those programs (I’m looking at you, Air France KLM Flying Blue — and I’ve even written critically of a rogue investigator for American).

Yet some ‘consumer advocates’, in my view, go too far.

American Airlines holds all the cards here. Conde lost.

Or has he? What do you think about this? Read the discussion and weigh in on it. If you have any suggestions for how Conde can recover his miles, please let us know.

This reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live commercial for the law firm of Green & Fazio.

Let’s be frank, what does a ‘No Trespassing’ sign mean when you’re as drunk as I was?

They can have their $2.6 million back, but who’ll give me back my tooth?

…Do you want to spend the rest of your life wondering, maybe I should have sued?

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, 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. With 60k+ subscribers you need to hire someone to proof read your posts. So many mistakes.

  2. I have to say, I think the guy is hilarious. I think giving a weasel like that a second chance is more along the line of the “Bad Idea Jeans” SNL commercial.

  3. I read some of this. I dont know how exactly how he made these additional bookings. I guess he cancelled them (refundable fares) last minute so his upgrades would clear. At some point AA sees all these cancellations and tracks it to him. None of this should have happened. Its heavy handed. He is such a long term member. They should just settle with him somehow. Nobody has any common sense. Although Gary seems to side with AA and I am a big fan of Gary, I disagree here. Over the last few years I have heard many “tricks: that have been used for various things. Many and all of them could be considering gaming the system, walking a fine line etc. One such strategy involved the strategic cancellation of award tickets. Some airline program might see that as a violation of their program. In fact every single angle could be considered as such. Opening and closing credit credit cards. Its just your point of view. If you get 7 AA Executive cards did you defraud AA or Citibank, or both? What if both programs shit the person down due to breaking the intent of the credit card bonus program and American as well. At some point AA or any program call call anything fraud and shut you down. I can see giving him a penalty of some kind. I still think he should appeal to AA corporate. Every strategy or loophole can be interpreted as a violation of a program.

  4. Talk about proofreading, robertw ought to consider at least rereading haha

  5. @robertw – Your humanity and empathy do you credit. Overall, though, it’s a simple issue: fraud. The guy reserved and/or bought refundable seats in first class, then cancelled last minute. In doing this, he hurt the airline, by removing available seats that he had no intention of using. He hurt award seekers, because if there were less available seats, then less were available for award travel for every other person. He hurt revenue passengers for the same reason. There just weren’t a lot of winners in this, outside of himself. Since the guy absolutely knew that what he was doing was dubious at best, he might have made it a point to keep himself informed that AA has an active fraud team that checks for this very thing.
    Regarding your point that the punishment was worse than the crime, I’d disagree. Besides the above reasons, would you personally invite a known thief into your house? Seems a bit unlikely, doesn’t it? That’s all AA is doing. In fact, I think AA showed some restraint in allowing him back on their planes at all. Next time, he can credit the flight to Alaska.

  6. It just shows what kind of a fraud these frequent flyer programs are.

    If you defraud a bank, you get a fine that’s commensurate with your crime.

    If you defraud a frequent flyer program, you get a fine that’s commensurate with whatever balance you happen to hold on the account.

    Where’s justice in this?

  7. Well, a lot of use have probably thought of this strategy before. I can’t believe someone did it! Such gall.

  8. @John: The programs terms and conditions clearly state that they have the right to revoke all earned miles and close the account in case of fraudulent activity.

    People here say that this guy didn’t *technically* do anything wrong, so he should not be punished. But at the same time you want the airline to be lenient and not take all the miles.

    Quite honestly, I think he gets away easily. If he has blocked on average 4 first class seats per flight, for (say) 50 flights a year, that is easily $150,000 in lost revenue for the airline (per year). I don’t think his 600K miles are worth that kind of money. He should be happy he doesn’t actually have to repay the damage he has done!

  9. Didn’t he also increase the price of the remaining F seats to the folks that were looking to purchase them? Would those folks have a claim against both him and AA?

  10. It’s a knee jerk response by that website. Customer has a problem, we have to help him because big, bad corporation. Nonsense, he’s a scammer and a cheat and he got caught. Punishment richly deserved.

  11. I think AA has the right to do what they did. He obviously manipulated their reservation system with no intent of actually purchasing tickets. That’s messed up. As pssteve commented, others possibly and in my mind probably suffered due to his shenanigans. As an AA EXP, he should have been upgraded on a very high percentage of his flights to begin with. To engage in conduct like that is dishonest. I am by no means a supporter of the airlines as I feel when glitches occur the passenger has every right to take advantage of those fares as they are publicly available and involve no deceit. The issue I have is his total disregard for others and I am sure other fliers suffered monetary damages to due his selfish conduct.

  12. Booking 4 tickets you are planning to cancel is fraudulent – AA holds all the cards, can cancel his account and miles and he can’t do anything about it. I don’t have much sympathy for him.
    At the same time, AA selling seats that they don’t have (aka overbooking) on every flight is not much better. So, I don’t feel all that bad for AA over the “lost revenue” either…

  13. That skit was hilarious! And that guy got caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

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