American Airlines Unlimited AAirpass Scandal – What Do You Think?

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An interesting story came out on Saturday in the LA Times about savvy frequent flyers who purchased American Airlines’ storied unlimited lifetime first-class AAirpasses back when they were first launched in the 80’s. Not only did these AAirpasses, which started at about $250,000 (you could add a companion for another cool $150,000) and eventually went up to $3 million, include airfare on any route in first class where there was an available seat, but they even included taxes and fees, and you would rack up AAdvantage miles. Well, that was during the airline’s heyday. Since it’s been in financial straits in recent years, American has formed a crack team of investigators hoping to uncover AAirpass fraud and revoke these privileges since they cost the airline millions of dollars a year. This morning I talked about it with MSNBC host Craig Melvin, which you can view here.

The abridged version is that two men named Jacques Vroom (seriously, the name could only be better if we were talking about a high speed auto chase) and Steve Rothstein took aadvantage (ha) of their passes to the extreme for years- they were known to get off to Europe several times a week…with companions (sometimes just strangers they happened to meet). Initially this wasn’t a big deal because they did not ostensibly violate any of the terms of the AAirpass. AA employees even helped them take maximum advantage by allowing them to book fake passengers so they’d have open seats next to them. However, once American realized they were losing millions of dollars, they encouraged their investigators to uncover instances where the men sold their companion tickets, and to revoke the AAirpasses, though details are still murky. Meanwhile, the men have not only flown around the world, but also accrued over 30-40 million miles each, and are currently banned from the airline pending court trials–though who knows when that will happen because of the bankruptcy.

In general, I think these guys took it to the extreme and I don’t really feel bad that they got banned. A lot of their behavior was just outright gluttonous- like booking empty seats and making reservations they knew they’d probably cancel. If you poke the sleeping bear too many times, you can’t be surprised when it awakes and eats you alive. That being said, I think American was shady in how they proceeded with the investigation (if what is written in the article is true about them coercing people to admit to lies). I can’t really feel bad for these guys- they got their investment back many times over and they could still be flying if they weren’t so brazen.

But what do you think? Was AA wrong to finally pull the plug on their passes? Am I being too hard on these guys because I’m just jealous they had a first class AAirpass for so many years?!

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