Military Churning is Taking a Hit
Whew, lad, it has been a hot minute since our last TDWise update and boy do we have a lot to discuss. The posts initially stopped due to my hectic PCS schedule back in September and then things in the churning world took some progressively terrible turns. Following my PCS I decided to go dark on TDWise for a while and wait for the collective dust to settle. The air is still black, but I managed to complete a trip that was in jeopardy so I have less to lose in the unlikely event my blog brings some unwanted attention to my accounts.
AMEX Total Shutdowns
This mess all started back in July when Amex cracked the whip on self-referrals. Turns out they weren’t done with abusers after the point claw-backs and went ahead in November to shut down self-referral abusers’ entire card portfolios. The community has it all sorted out now through data point mining and aggregation, but when the shutdowns started taking place it was a trying time. Not knowing what the shutdown criteria were, we all had some speculative panic and that lead to gambling your MR points on surviving shutdown or cashing out via Schwab. Ultimately, no one wanted to put an undue target on their back so this blogger went dark and halted any Amex account activity.
Eventually, the community figured that the shutdowns were coming from the self-referral abuse but outlier data points kept us all on edge for a bit. This was, after all, the first time the military churning community suffered casualties. Then, just about when I decided to get back into blogging, we all took a surprise left hook out of nowhere.
GrAAvy Train Derails
For the past 2 years or so there was a very lucrative loophole through the Citi American Airlines card acquisition system that bypassed the terms and conditions language limiting card family sign up bonuses to one every 24 months. It was discovered that AA would quite regularly send out Citi card invites (ads) via mail (and eventually via email) to their frequent flyer accounts that did not have an AA credit card attached. These invites included an application code that would bypass the signup bonus limit, and since Citi cards are pretty easy to get approved, you could rake in AA miles as long as you were approved for new AA Plat cards and had an invite code. This came to be known as the GrAAvy Train.
The invite codes eventually got so frequently sent out that online markets opened up and people sold them to those that couldn’t organically generate their own. Then, the buyers eventually discovered that you could open up fake AA frequent flyer accounts and AA would start generating codes for your dog or non-existant estranged live-in brother. It was all very shady and really skirted the terms and conditions limits, but Citi kept approving cards and the AA miles kept flowing.
Then in Dec, out of nowhere, in an unprecedented move, AA had a conniption and shadow-banned frequent flyer accounts in droves. Usually, it’s banks that get all bent out of shape when loopholes are exploited, not travel partners. It started with AA locking frequent flyer accounts, seemingly without logic or discernable criteria. AA won’t tell you if you’re locked and you only find out if you call AA and they tell you that corporate security would like to have a word, or you just can’t book award tickets anymore. So far, no one has been unlocked and reports of 3-5 account shutdowns per day are coming in from the locked pool. This means you lose any balance of AA miles and any booked award tickets. Still not a peep from Citi.
The best we can figure right now is that if you had 2 or 3 or more AA or Barclay or both sign up bonuses in the last 12 or 24 or 36 months, you got locked. I was sitting at 1 or 3 and the wife was sitting at 2 or 3. Fears that any positive action with AA would escalate your account for review and thus get shutdown emerged and I decided to just not do anything to poke the bear. I had AA award tickets booked to Hawaii last week that I really did not want to be canceled last minute or, worse, mid-trip, so again the blog went dark until I completed that lovely vacation. I still do not know if either of our accounts are locked, and likely won’t until I book another award ticket or get shut down out of the blue.
AMEX Drops Automatic SCRA Protections
As of last week, data points are coming in that Amex is no longer blanket applying SCRA protections to accounts opened after one enters active duty. Previously, Amex went above and beyond the law and gave SCRA benefits to all active-duty members, regardless of account open timeline. The SCRA only requires this for debts (accounts) opened prior to entering AD. Amex has ceased it’s above and beyondness and now falls in line with all the other banks’ SCRA policies.
The current speculation is that Amex is now going to waive annual fees under MLA protections instead of SCRA. A few data points have emerged that back this up but a few others may be caught in a limbo between SCRA and MLA Amex policy migration. I personally think MLA will prevail and Amex just has to get its customer service reps on the same page, but it might take some time and it would be best to avoid getting new Amex cards for the time being if you don’t want to float an annual fee payment.