Where are the frequent flier miles I won?

Larry Babbin wins lots of frequent flier miles from American Airlines, but the points never appear on his statement. Now the company is giving him the silent treatment. Can these miles be saved?

Question: American Airlines ran a contest in which it gave away 25,000 frequent flier miles every day. I entered every day last month and “won” three times. I have email confirmation each day that I won and a written assurance that the miles would be deposited within seven days to my account.

It’s been over a month, but I haven’t received the miles. American hasn’t even posted the winners on the website even though they are listed for every other contest American has had.

I’ve made three inquiries to American by email, to no avail. I know this problem pales in comparison to those I read about on your column, but for me this is a big issue. Any ideas for me? — Larry Babbin, Toms River, N.J.

Answer: You’re both right and wrong about the magnitude of this case. As a general rule, I don’t get involved in retrieving lost loyalty points, because it’s a lot like chasing the wind. These miles are largely worthless.

But this isn’t the time for a lecture on the negative value of frequent flier miles. The point — pardon the pun — is that American promised you something repeatedly, and in writing, that it failed to deliver. I have a big problem with that.

I can’t think of any reason why American would give you the silent treatment after you contacted it. I think it owed you an explanation for why it was denying your prize, however useless the miles might have been.

I note that you were sending your complaints to a general address. I list the names of American’s executives on my website and you might have tried appealing to them.

But before you did that, you might have reviewed the contest rules one more time. You would have seen that the contest was already over. But somehow, the site allowed you to enter the contest after it closed and as the only entry, you won several times.

Whose fault is that? Well, American should have made sure the contest was closed when it ended, so that’s on them. You should have paid closer attention to the dates, if not when you entered, then when you complained about not getting the miles.

Still, a promise is a promise. American said you had won 25,000 miles, and I’m sure your multiple entries were nothing more than an innocent mistake.

I contacted American. A representative emailed you back, saying, “We value your business and will honor 25,000 miles to make sure your customer experience is positive.”

I love a happy ending.

Who was to blame for this misunderstanding?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m calling BS. Multiple entries are suspicious. My guess is that American was investigating whether the OP committed fraud or some other violation of the rules before contacting him.

  • BillCCC

    The contest was probably run by a third party. They probably screwed up and tried to ignore the OP hoping he would go away or the email address he wrote to was connected to the closed contest and not monitored anymore.

  • Kairho

    Many online contests allow daily entries. But your other points are possible.

  • emanon256

    I got an e-mail about that promotion and entered a few times. it said I could enter once per day. I didn’t go back and try again after it ended. I do think its bad that the website was still up and the processes running after it ended, but tis not the first tiem I have seen a company do that. I think AA went above and beyond giving the OP miles when they clearly entered after the contest was over.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    What I’ve seen happen before is that they’ll take down all the links to the contest from their websites, emails, etc. but forget to actually deactivate the submission page. But, since people will have bookmarked the URL or be using a link from an old email they’ll still be able to get in. (I had that happen to contests I was actually running.) But this case went beyond that because not only was the OP able to enter, they were still picking winners and sending out notifications. If they were that sloppy, I think the OP deserved the prize.

  • emanon256

    I wold bet the winner selection and notifications were automated. It was clearly AA or the contest company’s fault to not turn the process off. Since the OP only won 3 times, I bet other people were entering as well, and also won. I’ve never run contests, but I have worked with many clients who have had websites up with back end processing, usually for form submission with a confirmation e-mail, and they have forgotten about them and they keep collecting data for years and sending confirmations to people, but never use or are even aware of the data. I’ve even had clients where a person runs a process daily and sends to results to a distribution list, and they no longer use the process, and the people getting the distribution just delete it. The person running it thinks its very important and must go out. Got to love poor communication. Identifying and fixing these things is actually one of the most rewarding parts of consulting.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The tools that have automation typically also let you schedule them to turn off at a designated time. Bad show to mess that up.

    And I thought the same thing: Chris says this guy was the “only one” playing but if he only won twice in a month, then clearly he wasn’t the only one. A better way to handle it would be to email the people who’d won directly telling them about the error and either make good on the prize or at the very least explain the problem. But somebody probably thought they’d get in trouble if this got any attention so they tried to just ignore things.

  • emanon256

    Not the old tools, I’ve seen people who have old school cron jobs scheduled to run nightly and weren’t even aware they were still running. No documentation, not institutional knowledge. We always get them into new scheduling software where they can set an end date, or if its running indefinably, they have a business process and documentation to review it regularly.

    I totally agree, if this were me, I would have had them send out an e-mail or letter explaining it and include something for good will to everyone who won.

  • sunshipballoons

    I don’t think that the passenger necessarily needs to check the dates. But in this case, the “won” in quote marks suggests to me that he KNEW he was gaming the system. In that case, he doesn’t deserve the miles.

  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    That’s quite the jump.

  • sunshipballoons

    Maybe, and I admit that if I had to make a “formal” decision on this, I’d want more information. But that’s how the original letter rubbed me, and I get the sense that I’m not the only one.

  • sirwired

    I think the compromise of 25,000 miles was a fair one. AA should have shut it off (or had the vendor running it shut it off), but I can understand not giving away 75,000 miles away on a contest that was supposed to have ended.

  • Name

    Couldn’t vote because both choices are correct. AA should have closed all access and OP should have read the fine print. However, I’m glad you posted this, Chris, it’s a very interesting thing to learn about.

  • Annie M

    I also can’t vote because both are responsible for the debacle. But AA did the right thing by giving the person something. Bravo, AA.

  • BMG4ME

    I agree on all counts. Even without reading the conclusion it was obvious something was up, the chance of winning 25000 miles even once is minimal, to win three times makes it obvious something is not quite right, as it wasn’t.

  • William_Leeper

    This particular contest was 25,000 miles/day, and it reset every day, so to be entered tomorrow, a person had to go back and enter again tomorrow.