The cynical view of the American Airlines/AwardWallet announcement

If you haven’t read already – and I’d be shocked if that were the case – AwardWallet now has permission to include and track AAdvantage account data in the details they maintain for their users. This is a great thing for AwardWallet and their members and I’m quite happy that they’ve managed to restore that access, this time with the full blessing of American Airlines and even a press release from the carrier. They’re even working to move from their screen-scraping approach to a managed direct access connection to the American systems which should make things even better in the long term. From the release:

The new relationship significantly streamlines the process for AAdvantage members, who now can access AwardWallet’s service via its website or mobile apps available in iTunes and the Android market.

But there’s also the cynic in me who wanted to know a bit more about how the deal was structured. A brief email exchange with the folks at AwardWallet confirmed that the new arrangement is based on AwardWallet paying American for the access. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I believe that there is value in the data American has and that they have the right to control access to that data. And it is hard to believe that the amount of money changing hands in this deal is enough to materially affect the bottom line for AAdvantage (though I admit I have no idea what the number is). At the same time, however, I cannot help but be a bit cynical about the situation. All along the airlines have said that they cut out the aggregators to ensure that their customers’ data was safe. It seems that writing a check is part of that process.

I am very happy for AwardWallet and their members. And I believe this will be the first of many such deals in this space, either by AwardWallet with other airlines, other aggregators with AwardWallet or both. And that’s ultimately likely to be good for consumers, so long as the aggregators can continue to generate the cash-flow to cover the costs.

At a minimum, this represents a notable change in the way this part of the market is playing.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. If AA will allow better access and ability to book/change etc. why not support and ask AW for payment to access the information? There’s no need to plant a conspiracy where none really exists

    1. As Seth said in the articale, AA may have the right to deny free access and ask aw to pay. I would have been ok with that, had they been honest and asking for it from the beginning. Instead, in their letter to AW and announcements, they kept saying they did it for their customer because they care about the safety of our data. I remember it was really annoying reading those bs and a few bloggers like aadvantagegeek defending them.

  2. I’m worried other airlines/programs will start wanting to charge Award Wallet, which may affect the cost Award Wallet charges its members. Slippery slope here.

  3. The fourth authentication factor: who you are, what you have, what you know, and how much you’re willing to pay!

  4. Thanks for sharing your dialogue with Award Wallet. Very interesting. I would not be surprise to see this continue with the other airlines wanting $$ and their service becoming a “paid service” for users. Although, I have to say as a Award Wallet user I’d probably pay for their service as I use it daily and have always been happy with it.

    1. Award Wallet is already a freemium service so not too far to go for them there. And I think the service they provide is a valuable one to many people. Unfortunately the internet has made many people believe that the services should be free. The ad-supported model rarely works, especially at the smaller scale in niche areas.

  5. I have never understood why it was so controversial for AA (and the other airlines) to limit third party access to their customer data.

    In 2006 I worked on a project for my (then) employer where we housed an airline’s customer data on our servers (it wasn’t American).

    Before we could access the airline’s customer data we had a pass a security audit, agree to accept liability for any security breach of their data, and get insurance coverage to cover the cost of any security breach.

    The whole process was fairly typical; we had to do much the same for housing customer data for automotive clients, an insurance company, and a media organization.

    There was also an exchange of money for data access, but I’m not sure how any contractual agreement would have been enforceable if both parties didn’t receive something of value.

    It seems quite reasonable to me that AA would charge AwardWallet for accessing American’s customer data, I wouldn’t expect any airline to have to underwrite the cost and risk of some other company’s business model.

    That said, I think it’s great that American and AwardWallet were able to create a partnership that benefits both companies and their customers.

    1. aadvantagegeek, there’s a big difference between a third party accessing consumer data for purposes that a consumer doesn’t request vs. a third party accessing data by consumer request.

  6. One would be tempted to think that if they have an AAdvantage account, the data about them and their travels is theirs. It’s not. And even if it is, providing access to it isn’t free for American – there are servers, electricity, programming, etc. So it’s less about charging for the data and more about charging for access to the data – all the bits, bytes and hardware between the two companies. Routers, switches, firewalls, servers, security software, databases… and on and on and on. Even so, the data about the account still never really belongs to the account holder.

    1. Of course the data belongs to AA and AA can sell it or license it or whatever if they want to. But when they make a huge deal about it being all about the security of the data and then turn around and give the exact same company access after the check clears I am more than a little suspect.

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