How a Man’s $250,000 American Airlines Lifetime Flight Pass Got Taken From Him

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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Most interesting part of Caroline Rothstein’s story is that although AA took away her dad’s $400,000 ticket ($250k for the AAirpass and $150k to add on the companion), and she thinks that was very mean of them, *she still flies AA*.

    “”Mom still has skycaps’ numbers in her phone. She, Natalie and I all still fly American, even though it hurts (and I have exactly 384,475 American miles at the time of publishing this piece, so if that dwindles unexpectedly, we’ll all know why).””

    Let that sink in. These people understand exactly what the AA passenger experience has been like for the past 30 years and they still fly AA, on purpose, plenty.

    I’ll think about this every time I hear someone say “airline X lost my bags and the agent was mean, I am never flying X again!”.

  2. The sneaking into Business Class story sounds fake, like a penthouse letter…

    “Dear telegraph – I never thought you could sneak into business class, but then it happened to me. Seat 2K with its plush bedding just sat there waiting for me to arrive…”

  3. There was a lot of shady things with that AAirpass story, more than I knew about from hearing about it before. Sounds like AA may have been within their rights.

  4. At least AA is consistent in customer service. They’re bad for me and for the guy who paid $400k, no extra discrimination either way. Equal poor treatment for all!

  5. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. I have a lot of sympathy for this man and what he has endured in life, but not because of the loss of his pass.

  6. Excellent article on the Airpass story and kudos to the daughter for being for the most part objective. Clearly the guy abused the program. He became so drunk with his superpower that he could not tolerate even having a person sit next to him in first class. Standing behind the excuse of not booking the reservations on a computer is also not credible. This guy clearly enjoys having other people doing his work for him. Bad optics by publishing the straining rickshaw driver pulling him around at the end of the article because he was late for a meeting.

  7. “Clearly the guy abused the program.”

    That’s the bottom line. He did.

    And it’s a great story, thanks for the link, Gary!

  8. Can someone summarize the reasons that AA confiscated the Airpass? That story is way too long-winded.


  9. Why so many cancellations? All speculative? These weren’t award bookings that we sometimes book because availability will dry up.

  10. @SeanNY2. You are a noxious little idiot. Get out of this serious group and pin your brain on Instagram at full magnification — so that it is almost visible.

  11. He lost his path because he booked phony companions so he could have an empty seat next to him. Also he cancelled something like 75% of his reservations.

    It was a sad ending to an otherwise interesting story. And of course leaves the question out there (for Gary to research) – how many unlimited AAirpasses are still active? Did anyone win their lawsuits against AA?

    In some ways the Southwest companion pass is like the Airpass companion, except that it’s free and for a limited duration. Wonder how many Southwest customers are super frequent CP users?

  12. @L3 Did AA warn him? This is AA we are talking about. Not only did AA not warn him, or warn any of his contacts in the AA platinum booking dept., AA literally waited until he was boarding a flight, with a companion, to hand him the letter telling him his AAirpass was rescinded, including rescinding it for the flight he and his companion were boarding.

    Although Caroline Rothstein’s story is weighed down by way, way too many side stories about the family’s feelings about travel, it does a great job of showing how the AA auditors hid their intentions from other AA personnel, and just how much they were trying to get out of AAirpass because of what a costly marketing mistake it was to offer unlimited AAirpass at all.

    I have to chuckle at the comment above: that the family still flies AA! I couldn’t believe that part either. AA absolutely screwed my mother and my cousin several years ago, and no one in my extended family flies AA anymore. I cannot count how much business AA lost because of rotten customer service.

  13. @L3

    Here’s the key summary … “of the 3,009 flight segments Dad booked for himself from May 2005 to December 2008, he either canceled or was considered a “no-show” for 84 percent of those reservations. During the same time period, he booked 2,648 flight segments for travel companions, and 2,269 were either canceled or a no-show.”

    Many of us would love to have had that pass (but probably didn’t have an extra 250-400k …). Seems like he wasn’t actually flying much — 500 segments over a 3.5 year period is more like EXP flying. Unfortunately, looks like he really abused it.

    Nice story on all the things they used to do before it got to the abuse level.

  14. In RE: AAirpass, I found the story touching and a great slice ‘o life read. Did he deserve to lose it? Did AA unfairly cancel it? Doesn’t matter, but it’s interesting to see the debate in the comments here. It’s more interesting to have the author tell her story with all the ins and outs of a family drama. In addition to being well paced and with solid grammar, there’s enough drama in it for those who follow Gary’s blog and those who don’t. It’s worthy of your time, allowing one to contemplate the possibilities of having the freedom and asking what they might do with the power.

  15. @BobinLA

    Agreed! Definitely a great slice o’ life read.

    But disturbing that with all that freedom, he would engage in such a level of abuse. I admire his daughter for recognizing it.

  16. Back in the day, it seems like several of the large US airlines sold lifetime passes. They were a bad deal, unless you flew a lot and had champagne tastes — and could somehow legally SELL the miles you would accumulate. I assume that’s what Stuker with his UA pass is doing. If you could monetize the miles, these passes might actually be GOOD deals. At a minimum, you’d never have to pay for your family to fly (assuming you could find them award seats).

  17. @Joseph N: Thanks! That significantly weakens AA’s case. Plaintiff can argue that they were pursuing an accounting imperative rather than addressing abuses. To achieve the latter they could have warned him and then pulled the pass if he did not comply.

  18. > Here’s the key summary … “of the 3,009 flight segments Dad booked for himself from May 2005 to December 2008, he either canceled or was considered a “no-show” for 84 percent of those reservations. During the same time period, he booked 2,648 flight segments for travel companions, and 2,269 were either canceled or a no-show.”

    Any normal auditor would flag this and then do further research.

    > Unfortunately, looks like he really abused it.

    And that is what any normal auditor would conclude. But hey it was fun while it lasted.

  19. After reading the AA article, my first question is, how was I able to stay awake? My 2nd question is: at what number are reservation cancellations fraudulent or abusive: 1%, 10%, 50%, etc? If there is a number it should have been spelled out, and not be figured out ex post facto. In other words, fraud is always a valid reason to void a contract… fraud is illegal. If AA argued that a pattern of activity made it fraud, then they could have presented to the court documents that show that they notified the customer that a pattern of activity was suspicious and may constitute fraud. But they cant just say “83% cancellations is okay, but 84% is fraudulent”.
    Instead, AA said “give us $250K, make and cancel as many reservations as you want to, using our triple diamond reservations system, and we will decide if you have committed fraud.”
    And the court agreed?! Actually, bankruptcy would have gotten AA out of the jam, but the legal costs to do so would have been much more, and the lifetime pass holders may have been secured creditors, greatly costing AA.
    A 3rd question: how many times has AA fraudulently cancelled flights to save money but said it was due to weather?

  20. Can’t believe the sympathy this guy, his daughter are getting. Guy was a cheat (spare me the ‘where did it say he couldn’t cancel reservations’) and he and the daughter are shameless attention whores. She bloats the story with a deluge of humble brags and makes dad out to be Mother Teresa of Seat 1A . She also threw in the ‘anxiety issues’ – but he sure seemed to make a lot of fast friends in lounges, in the terminals with AA employees and in all the cities he went to.

    And the ‘AA wanted to cancel him and others because it was losing money’ – please. Billions in revenue and they’re worried about a guy who was probably using the pass for about $100k/yr more than they ever anticipated? Ditto the ‘AA cancels flights in a shady fashion too’ – the old ‘someone else did something bad’ – makes you sound like 12 yr olds – or pathetic guys trying to get out of a speeding ticket.

    I assume many of you are frequent flyers: did you stop to think how many people didn’t take trips because there was no availability because Rothstein hogged seats?

  21. “I assume many of you are frequent flyers: did you stop to think how many people didn’t take trips because there was no availability because Rothstein hogged seats?”

    Am guessing the auditors figured out that Mr. Seat Hog no-show was costing them a bundle.

  22. It’s a gray area. Suppose you purchased first class tickets. You’re not required to show up. If you don’t show, American keeps your money. From Rothstein’s perspective, he purchased tickets for every flight he wanted. He’s not required to show up, just like other paying customers. In support of his position, American personnel — including those specifically tasked with handling this limited group of customers — knew what he was doing and never told him it was wrong. That said, the uniqueness of these passes made them a terrible bargain for American, especially the way Rothstein used (or didn’t use) them.

    What should’ve happened: American should’ve given him a warning and if he didn’t stop, cut him off only then. And notifying him just as he was boarding a life is just terrible customer service and really suggests bad faith.

    Both sides have plenty of blame on their hands. And American remains a terrible airline.

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