These miles got lost in the merger … or did they?


Since the American Airlines-US Airways merger, many travelers have been holding their breath waiting to feel the effects of the complexities of merging two legacy carriers.

Lucjan Zlotnicki and his wife are feeling the brunt of those complexities now.

On March 24, 2015, American Airlines and US Airways merged their frequent flier programs and presented accounting of miles to loyal fliers. On March 27, Zlotnicki signed into his account and saw a balance of 2,485,649 program-to-date miles. However, on or around April 1, he was granted just 1 Million Miler status (as opposed to 2 Million Miler), and the balance dropped to 1,154,869 miles.

What happened to the missing 1.3 million miles?

Zlotnicki did his own digging into the mysterious situation before reaching out for help. He found that airline policy dictated that all miles earned prior to December 2011 would count towards the total number of merged miles, no matter how they were earned. This includes credit card purchases, flights, and bonuses. After December 2011, only miles earned by flying would count.

Zlotnicki is quick to point out that the majority of his miles were earned by flight prior to December 2011. To be rejected, the missing 1.3 million miles would need to have been charged to a credit card between December 2011 and March 2015. In his own words, “this would require me to have a lot of money — which I do not have.”

Unfortunately, that’s about as far as he got.

He ran into roadblocks at every turn when trying to inquire as to the discrepancy with American Airlines. He says he spent countless hours on the phone, even requesting copies of written rules about the program merger, to no avail. All he was able to uncover was the breakdown of his remaining balance — 888,882 miles from US Airways and 265,987 miles from American Airlines.

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After three months of trying to get a straight answer, Zlotnicki was informed by American Airlines that a “specialist” (to whom he was never allowed to speak directly) determined the rejected miles were earned prior to December 2011 on the US Airways program.

What?

He asked to see a written explanation of why these miles were rejected.

Nada.

Furthermore, Zlotnicki’s wife had more than 2.3 million miles from US Airways, of which approximately 2 million were earned prior to December 2011. She was granted 2 Million Miler status by American Airlines when the programs combined on March 24, 2015 — complete with the associated benefits, like four one-way system-wide upgrades. However, just like her husband, on or around April 1 her status was changed, the benefits were gone, and she was back to 1 Million Miler status.


What the heck is going on here?

The best “explanation” the Zlotnickis have received is that their miles were earned on US Airways. But that’s not good enough. As Zlotnicki lamented to us, “Every description I have ever read led me to believe that they would treat US Airways miles as if they were American Airlines miles for the purpose of lifetime status.”

We’ve written before about the issues associated with loyalty programs and lifetime miles. A quick search to see whether others have run into situations similar to the Zlotnicki’s shows that some fliers lost their US Airways miles because they hadn’t flown in the last 18 months — and so the account was considered dormant.

We’re not sure when the Zlotnickis last flew with US Airways, but it shouldn’t matter. They are rightfully upset. The couple is approaching retirement and would like to enjoy the benefits they earned after a lifetime of loyalty to US Airways and American Airlines.

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Mr. Zlotnicki summed it up best:

Anyone can make an error. Maybe American Airlines realized that they had misinformed the public about the merger of the programs since 2012 (with the added benefit of keeping customers from moving to the competition by promising benefits…) and in April 2015 quietly tried to rectify their mistake. Are they really afraid that promised benefits (the majority of which never get monetized) are more valuable to them than keeping loyal customers happy? What differentiates good customer relations from bad?

I would like my 2.4 million miles recognized in 2 Million Miler status, and I would like my wife to get her four systemwide upgrades that she was already given and which were taken away without any explanation or apology.

Is my dream frivolous compared to other $400 complaints? I think not.

Should we help the Zlotnickis get to the bottom of their missing miles mystery?

Should we advocate for the Zlotnickis?

View Results

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Heather Dratler

Lover of all things travel and hospitality, both from a personal and professional standpoint. A PR pro by day, I've represented a wide variety of clients in the travel industry since 2008. Sharing my passion for and knowledge of travel makes me happy. Cornell University graduate. Follow me on Twitter @HeatherLori7.

  • JenniferFinger

    Hard to say. I know Chris has posted before that he doesn’t like cases involving what he calls “funny money.” But then again, removing such a big quantity of points from their account while refusing to give an explanation is poor customer service. I’m going to hold off on voting because I just don’t know in this case.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    It’s a tough situation since customers largely have no rights under the FF rules. I disagree with Heather that it shouldn’t matter as to when the OP last flew and the miles expired. That’s part of the agreement and the airline is within their rights, and customer expectations, to nullify them.

    It’s well known that airlines are constantly devaluing their miles much like, er, a nation devalues its currency. :-) The best thing to do with miles is to spend them rather than racking them up for retirement. I’m sure it’s tempting that the OP decided to pay for flights in order to get more credit for their status rather than spend the miles immediately, but that’s also partly how the game is played. If you spend the miles, you won’t accure more loyalty points but what’s the point of miles if you never spend them?

    One way to spend them would be to have done what I did with a friend: My miles allowed me to pay for last minute tickets that would have cost more if she walked up so I bought her tickets with my miles while she gave me advance-rate cash for them. Win-win. She got to fly at a reasonable rate and I didn’t let my miles sit where they could be devalued or even expired.

  • Noah Kimmel

    If I understood correctly, and it is not written clearly in the article, its not removing the miles from their account. It is removing them from counting towards a lifetime status. The removed miles would not be available for “spending” just for recognition. This is a key difference, one which seems to be incredible misleading in the article and I would appreciate clarification

    Are the “missing 1.3 million miles” spendable miles or program-to-date lifetime earning counts which would go to lifetime recognition.

    If it is missing the first, then it is miles that could have been used on flights and is worth thousands of dollars. If it is the second, then I understand not providing lifetime status to someone wasn’t lifetime loyal but is getting lucky via merger. To be fair, the benefits aren’t all that amazing, so AA should just give it to them, but still that is much more excusable.

  • Noah Kimmel

    doesnt appear to be removing the points that can be used as “funny money”. Seems to be limiting amount of miles counted towards lifetime recognition. We’ve seen this devaluation before when bonus miles were removed, then when credit card spend miles were removed.

  • tomg63

    TL;DR – You should not advocate. AA had a glitch when accounts were merged. They fixed the glitch.

    Here is what happened and why American is probably right. Most airlines have two types of miles, elite qualification miles (EQM) and redeemable miles (RDM). EQM counts for elite and lifetime status and RDM counts for spending miles. Most airlines only count flown miles for EQM, but they count both flown miles and other forms of earning (bonus miles from elite status or promotions, credit card bonuses and spending, hotel stays, rental cars, shopping portals, buying miles etc.) for RDM.

    Example, you buy a $200 flight with an AA credit card that gives 2 points per dollar, the flight is 1,000 miles and you are a platinum elite. You would earn 1,000 EQM miles but 2,400 RDM (1,000 for flight+1,000 from elite bonus and 400 from credit card ($200×2)). The 1,000 EQM miles count toward lifetime status. The 2,400 RDM do not, but can be spent on mileage tickets.

    The LW has probably accumulated 2.1M RDM with US Air with only 0.89M of that being EQM. Here is the wrinkle: Before 2011, American, but not US Air, counted all earned miles (basically all RDM) towards lifetime status. They changed the policy in 2011 so that only EQM would count. USAir had this policy all along. My guess is that AA originally had a glitch during combining accounts and they intended to do the following:

    Lifetime status based on
    1) AA RDM prior to 2011,
    2) AA EQM 2011-2015 and
    3) US EQM

    What they originally coded was this:
    1)AA RDM prior to 2011
    2) AA EQM 2011-2015
    3) US RDM prior to 2011 <– this is where the OPs glitch comes from
    4) US EQM 2011-2015

    Since those US RDM did not count toward lifetime status in the old US program, AA is right to not count them in the merged program. They will continue to count the pre2011 AA RDM though. Make sense?

    Again, don't advocate. AA had a glitch when they combined accounts, they fixed the glitch.

  • Richard

    A little confused here. UAL only counts flown (butt in the seat) miles, not earned miles, toward million mile(+)status. Does AA do it differently?

  • tomg63

    No other airline will match lifetime status. You have to earn that.

  • Rebecca

    My understanding was that he has been using the miles all along. The issue is that once you have earned over 2 million total, regardless of how and when you redeemed them, you receive status with the airline and special parks. I don’t think he’s been sitting on all these miles; he’s been redeeming them for years. But he wants to have the lifetime status that he previously had for accumulating so many miles over the years.

  • Rebecca

    This is extremely helpful to someone like me that flies only a few times per year and doesn’t participate in mileage programs. Thank you!

  • Mel65

    So.Much.Math

  • sirwired

    Given the numbers involved, I’d say AA/US at least owes them an explanation. The answer may not be what they want to hear, but they should present a little more data.

  • tomg63

    If you understand how the airlines do math, you can beat them at their game…
    Yesterday people were essentially buying $500 business class tickets from Los Angeles and New York to London on British Airways. The key to getting a good price is knowing how to do the math.

  • whatup12

    seriously! could you imagine them saying: thanks for spending a lifetime of money with someone else…

  • whatup12

    well, we don’t know if they count miles on BA, cathay, etc. UAL doesn’t, but Delta does.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Welcome back! I missed Disqus, too.

  • whatup12

    seriously–don’t want yet another login just to have discussion! but miss talking to folks who travel a lot…as do about 400k miles per year.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Have you checked out the Elliott forums yet? There’s one devoted to airlines in general:
    http://elliott.org/forum/forums/airline/. And subforums for AA, UA, Delta, Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant. Lots of info, and you can ask questions, too.

  • judyserienagy

    I had a tough time following this story, as Heather states, it’s really complex. This does seem like a horrible nightmare caused by American’s changing the rules of their program without regard to the “incoming” USAir people at all. A breathtaking example of how little American thinks of their “new frequent flyers”.
    I think I would wait a few months and start over to request reinstatement of his status and miles. It’s remote, but possible that he’s the victim of a glitch somewhere and American does not mean to treat him like this. It certainly couldn’t hurt to try again.

  • whatup12

    i get that, but how would the AA frequent fliers feel if USAir folks made millionaire lifetime status based on a much looser criteria for earning miles. Ie, harmonization has to work both ways!

  • Tricia K

    I will never accumulate this level of miles/status, especially under Delta’s new rules (how to make everyone unhappy), but it does seem anyone who has flown (and given that level of repeat business) is due a decent explanation. Airlines talk about how they value your business and of course, thank you for flying with them, but do they ever put their money where their mouth is? Seems like most of these frequent flier programs are based on a Vegas model:the house always wins.

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