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Fighting for missing miles put the kibosh on this family's elaborate scheme

July 07, 2020
4 min read
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What happens when you've got an award ticket that was significantly changed due to coronavirus-related service reductions?

Most people can simply call up their airline and request to have their miles reinstated and taxes refunded. But not for fraudsters.

One group of schemers tried calling the American Airlines reservations department at least 19 times in order to find an agent willing to redeposit their miles. But they couldn't find one to agree.

Why? Read on to find out.

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The basics of what happened

At the end of 2019, we reported that some AAdvantage members were having their accounts shut down due to allegedly violating program rules.

The shutdowns were due to opening multiple credit card accounts using targeted mailers that were sent to other members.

Standard Citi credit card offers restrict cardholders from earning a sign-up bonus if the potential cardholder has received a new account bonus in the past 48 months. However, these targeted mailers didn’t have this restriction in the fine print. So, people were using these mailers to apply for credit card accounts and earn credit card sign-up bonuses without being limited to the aforementioned restrictions.

Some people really took advantage of this loophole. Maria Borges, her daughter and son-in-law managed to open a shocking 45 new Citi credit card accounts over a four-year period. They amassed over 1.4 million AAdvantage miles in the process across 16 frequent flyer accounts, according to government documents.

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American planes in Phoenix (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

AA started to catch wind of what the Borges family was doing. The airline started closing down some of the AAdvantage accounts for fraud, prompting the children to redeem miles for two first-class flights from Miami to Maui.

Well, in mid-March there was a schedule change on the flights to Hawaii, and the son-in-law and his father tried to get the miles redeposited to a (voluntarily) closed account. It took them over 19 tries without success.

And then Maria Borges decided to file a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Transporation for the missing miles.

Related: AA and Citi have reminded us we have to play by the rules

American's response to the DOT complaint

In a 53-page response to the complaint, American Airlines clearly outlines the many steps of the alleged fraud.

This includes signing up for accounts under fictitious names such as "Bubbles," as well as using Gmail aliases and asking AA to voluntarily close Maria Borges' account due to a "security concern."

American asks the DOT to dismiss the complaint, which it'll likely do.

And for those who don't have time to read the full response, rest assured that AA included some hilarious language like comparing the scheme to a "game of whack-a-mole." It also posits that the likely reason Borges asked AA to close her account was that she "sens[ed] the jig was up."

American Boeing 777-300ER (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Why filing a formal DOT complaint isn't the right move

Needless to say, if you're going to engage in questionable activities, then you shouldn't be filing a complaint with the DOT.

American Airlines is likely using its response as a way to discourage other participants from complaining to the Department. Additionally, by including detailed personal information, including the number of times the family called the reservations department, AA is clearly showing that it has a lot more information at its disposal should you submit a formal complaint.

Related: How and when to file a DOT complaint

When complaining to the DOT makes sense

Just because you shouldn't file a DOT complaint when you're engaging in sketchy behavior, doesn't mean the process is worthless.

In fact, filing a formal complaint to the DOT is one of the best courses of action when airlines don't give refunds for canceled flights. A formal complaint requires a response from the airline, which will clearly outline their case. The DOT will then prepare a written decision outlining its assessment.

Just don't file a complaint about missing miles when you've engaged in an elaborate scheme to get the sign-up bonus from 45 new credit cards.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff)

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How we chose these cards

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023