United’s Most Frequent Flyer: 700,000 Miles Per Year in the Air

Scott Mayerowitz has an ABC Travel piece on United’s most frequent flyer, tied to the movie Up in the Air (hint: Tom Stuker flies twice as much as Ryan Bingham), and writing about airline top tier elite programs like United’s Global Services and American’s Concierge Key.

About Tom Stuker’s flying,

Stuker has flown nearly 700,000 miles this year alone, criss-crossing the globe for work as an automobile sales consultant. Over the years, he has racked up nearly 8.8 million miles on United Airlines, making him the top member of the airline’s Mileage Plus frequent flier program.

If this is accurate — if the 700,000 figure is actual butt-in-seat miles rather than elite qualifying miles (juiced by double elite qualifying mile promos and class of service bonuses) then it is truly impressive. Actually, it’s impressive either way. I’ve never known anyone personally who does more than 350,000 actual flown miles in a year. 700,000 would be a Los Angeles-Sydney roundtrip four times a month all year. But it doesn’t sound like Stuker is doing ‘occasional’ simple straight-turns to Sydney, since he says he once ate 23 straight meals on planes. (Sidenote: he’s a Flyertalk member, he travels frequently with his fiance and works with his son, so he’s not George Clooney’s loner from Up in the Air.)

The article isn’t quite as strong discussing United’s Global Services program, which is portrayed as hush hush super secret and ultra-service when in reality plenty is known about it (see for instance this extensive Flyertalk discussion which dates to the introduction of the program in 2003), there are published benefits and published requalification criteria, and when it’s even somewhat of a mass market product (although not an easily attainable club for most). In fact, for folks who were members of United’s old VIP program prior to Global Services being introduced, Global Services was a devaluation of the truly personal benefits. Stuker still apparently receives some real personal treatment, but that’s not really a function of the Global Services program per se. He receives special treatment not due as part of the Global Services program.

My favorite bits from the piece:

At the United Los Angeles first class lounge, “I am treated like a king,” Stuker said. He walks in the door and his favorite drink — a Bacardi and Diet Coke — is waiting. When he leaves, the staff hands him a personally packed doggie bag of his favorite snack for the next flight: chips and guacamole.

Now, if I were king, I would probably want my doggie bag filled with dim sum or satay. But to each their own!

“If I was in coach, I would shoot myself,” he said.

I’ve been known to make such over the top claims myself, and yet I’m planning a two and a half hour coach flight in a couple of weeks (fortunately next week’s transcon is not in coach!).

The piece touches on American’s Concierge Key program, which is much more personalized and service-oriented than United’s Global Services (though the article doesn’t go into the details that would tell you this). Concierge Key doesn’t really help with upgrades, it does offer escorts and assistance at the airport. (Global Services members at United clear upgrades before 100,000 mile flyers, in contrast.)

Apparently Jason Reitman, director of Up in the Air has been given Concierge Key membership. I guess writing a movie set in the airline’s planes and about a quest to earn its miles makes him one of their very best customers! He was already an American Airlines elite member who has discussed mileage running to retain his Executive Platinum status in the past.

(Update: Lucky beat me to the punch discussing this article, read his comments as well.)

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. I see that guy doesn’t post that much on flyertalk — no doubt because he’s not on the ground enough! I wonder if the introduction of in-flight interest will increase his postings.

    BTW, it does boggle the mind that you could average 2000 flight miles A DAY! That’s almost a transcon flight a day. I can’t imagine doing that every day of the year.

  2. The article says he “pays for a first-class seat. ” If true, it means he earns 150% Bonus EQM in addition to the Double EQM. I think butt-in-seat is often misused and this is an example. With these different bonuses I wonder how many “actual” BIS miles he flies.

    Also, I really don’t understand the point of buying a First Class ticket to Australia on United when you can buy Business Class and upgrade. At least this month, First Class has almost always been wide open on the LAX-SYD-LAX route. But some people have more money then sense.

  3. Hi Gary

    You do know someone who flies 350k a year – me. Well not this year, I only flew 250k but in 2008 I flew 350k and in 2007 I flew almost 500k. All my figures are actual flown miles – no minimums, no class of service or status bonuses, or any other bonuses.

    There are several FTers who fly more than I do.

  4. Yes, of cour Kiwi — I actually had you in mind when writing this post. But I was saying I didn’t know for sure of anyoine flying over 350k. I didn’t realize you nearly hit 500k a few years back!

    I’m not sure there are all that many Flyertalkers flying a whole lot more than you, perhaps they exist but I don’t know who they are 🙂

  5. What’s the way to get an upgrade from business to first class? Thanks in advance for any hints/tricks 🙂

  6. Hi Gary,

    Interesting article. I found it while searching how my personal case is unusual. I live in Bangkok, my daughters live in Jakarta with their mother and my girlfriend lives in Luxembourg. I fly every 2 weeks over the week-end to Jakarta to see my daughters and every 2 weeks over the week-end as well to Frankfurt to see my girlfriend. Thus totalling around 350 kmiles butt-in-seat per year. All in economy class.

    I have been travelling like this for years. And even more soon, my daughters should move with their mother to Lebanon end of this year, and I still intend to visit them every 2 weeks over the week end.

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