Unlimited first class flights? The story of American Airlines’ “AAirpass”

If you asked me if I wanted unlimited first class flights with one of the world’s biggest airlines, my response would only be two words: Hell Yeah! That’s what 66 people thought when they bought American Airlines’ “AAirpass”, a card enabling its users to travel anywhere, for free, in first class, for the rest of their lifetime. I mean, who wouldn’t want that?

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The pass was first thought of in 1981 when American Airlines was desperate for money because you know, planes need fuel to fly and it’s very expensive. They thought that letting passengers have unlimited first-class flights for the cost of 250,000 US dollars (around $754,000 today due to inflation) and also allowing them to bring a companion for a further $150,000 (all together reaching a total of around 1.207 million dollars in today’s money according to in2013dollars.com) would solve their large problem. And so, they released their idea. In total, an estimated 66 people bought the pass including the owner of Dell Computers, Michael Dell.

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30 Years Ago, You Could Buy a Lifetime, Unlimited First-class Travel Pass  with American Airlines. Now They're Regretting It.
Credit: messynessychic.com
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However, even though everyone saw it coming, the pass ultimately failed. American Airlines assumed that a passenger would just use the pass whenever they took their flights normally, but instead get it for free. The buyers did the exact opposite of what the airline thought they would do. People like the legendary Steve Rothstein would be classed as super travelers; people flying all the time to everywhere. Steve often flew hundreds or thousands of miles just to get his favorite sandwich from a restaurant. It’s estimated that people like Steve cost American Airlines over a million dollars every year.

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However, American Airlines was having none of it. They were determined to put a halt to the cause of their troubles and so tried to put an end to it. So, on the 10th of March 2009 American Airlines sued Rothstein for essentially fraud because when he was flying, he would often give random people surprise upgrades and had to put a false name on the ticket. After all, he had no idea who was coming. We have no idea what the outcome was because it was settled privately out of court and one thing is for sure, that his pass was taken away and others were soon to follow suit.

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American Airlines Just Made a Big Announcement. There's Only 1 Problem |  Inc.com
Credit: inc.com
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Today, other pass holders remain like Mike Cuban and Michael Dell, but they don’t cost the airline quite so much money. American Airlines still claims to have the pass but it isn’t unlimited and comes with other benefits such as various lounge access and other perks. The original AAirpass however, will go down in history.

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Sources:

  • halfasinteresting.com
  • wikipedia.com (Also cover image)
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Published by Sam Jakobi (Sam the avgeek)

I am a young Avgeek who has been interested in aviation since the age of around 3 or 4. I run a very small youtube channel in which I review flights and explain common things in the aviation industry.

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