Loyalty program mileage managers like AwardWallet, Traxo, UsingMiles, and the like live or die based on their ability to consolidate information from travelers' many accounts and display it in a single unified view.
Loyalty programs, on the other hand, would prefer that their members access their accounts on their branded websites, where the program operators can cross-sell and up-sell other products and services.
For a time, the loyalty programs grudgingly allowed the mileage managers to "screen scrape" their members' account details, if they provided the mileage manager with their usernames and passwords.
But beginning in 2011, the largest airline programs decided they'd had enough and ordered AwardWallet and other account aggregators to cease and desist from acquiring and displaying their members' information.
Their excuse for inconveniencing their best customers typically turned on some variation of the security theme. Nobody really believed that data security was really at risk. The real issue was access, and the programs were asserting their ownership of their customers and their customers' account information.
Whatever the underlying motivation, a handful of major loyalty programs had their way, and the mileage managers were left to limp along without the ability to deliver account information from the likes of American AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, Southwest Rapid Rewards, and United MileagePlus, the world's largest programs with the largest memberships. A mileage manager without those programs wasn't much of a mileage manager.
Fast forward to Tuesday, August 6, when American issued a press release announcing that AwardWallet had resumed aggregating account information from AAdvantage members, with the airline's very public blessing. An American executive is quoted as follows: "American Airlines is continually looking for new ways to enhance the experience for our most valued customers. We have worked closely with AwardWallet to design an offering that meets our security requirements, while offering our customers a one-stop shop for tracking all of their loyalty affiliations, including AAdvantage." More likely, what has changed is that AwardWallet is now paying American to access its customers' data.
If AwardWallet is willing to purchase account data from American, it is presumably willing to do so from the other major programs missing from its portfolio as well. And if the new financial arrangement is satisfactory to American, it may well be satisfactory to the other hold-outs. So there's reason to be optimistic that mileage managers can regain their mojo. If, that is, they're willing to pay the airlines' price.
Reader Reality Check
Do you use a mileage manager to keep track of your loyalty program accounts?
Whose decision should it be whether to allow a content aggregator to access your account information, yours or the program operator's?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.