The Points Guy (owned by new media conglomerate Red Ventures) created an app that would let users track their miles, including American AAdvantage miles. Members would input their AAdvantage account numbers and passwords and the ‘TPG app’ would scrape data from AA.com.
American sent Red Ventures a cease and desist. Red Ventures did not want to comply, so they sought a declarative judgment in Delaware Court. American Airlines then filed suit in the Northern District of Texas claiming unauthorized use of their systems as well as trademark infringement.
- The Points Guy says they’re just trying to help consumers. They do offer a free service to consumers, but their goal is to monetize that traffic (pitching users on credit cards).
- American says they’re trying to protect consumers, that they don’t allow this sort of access for security reasons. Only they did allow this access with Award Wallet for 8 years under a security and revenue agreement that allowed AwardWallet.com to access accounts via an API, and American shut that down in December. It isn’t about security.
Instead American Airlines wants its members on its website for monetization purposes, just like TPG wants people using its app for monetization purposes.
Ultimately though I think American is a bit short—sighted here. Members who check their account balances in an easy fashion each day via app (including Award Wallet’s) are,
- Better for security since they notice all account balance changes right away, not weeks or months later when they check their account. E.g. they’ll usually notice unauthorized withdrawals before any travel booked with their miles is consumed.
- Better for monetization they see every balance update and it drives them to the airline site more frequently than if they’re in the blind.
- Better for engagementwhen members keep their account numbers handy in the most convenient manner for them, it’s easier for them to interact with the program.
TPG isn’t on the side of angels here, they’re both fighting over consumer eyeballs, but the service that others like TPG are providing can be a net positive. And unquestionably companies have taken enforcement of computer access laws way too far. Fortunately courts have begun limiting the scope of website terms and conditions being applied to criminal law.
What American should have done was insist on a stake in the product (easier done perhaps with Award Wallet than TPG?) and the ability to communicate with competitor customers a certain number of times per year… Award Wallet has hundreds of thousands of airline elite customers in their database….. including the customers of American’s competitors. The smart move would be to market to those competitors’ customers, negotiated in exchange for access.