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Point Me to the Miles

Navigating the Path to Great Travel

AAirpass or Fail?

Imagine a life of limitless first class travel, a life that makes having top-tier status seem essentially pointless.

That is exactly what American Airlines once offered, and what folks like Steven Rothstein and Jacques Vroom and were willing to purchase for a mere $2500,000.  For an additional $150,000 they could “upgrade” their pass to include a companion.  Not only that, American covered all passenger taxes, included Admirals Club access for life, and the ability to earn miles for ALL flight activity.

Courtesy of Los Angeles Times; Hans Kundnani

SUMMARY

Initially American introduced the AAirpass in 1981, as a prospective method of raking in millions during a period of sky-high loan interest rates.

So Rothstein and Vroom did what any sane individuals would do they started jet-setting around the globe, for even the most trifle of reasons.  To the tune of 30 and 40 million miles, respectively, according to this LA Times article.

Passes in hand, Rothstein and Vroom flew for business. They flew for pleasure. They flew just because they liked being on planes. They bypassed long lines, booked backup itineraries in case the weather turned, and never worried about cancellation fees. Flight crews memorized their names and favorite meals.

“Oh a new exhibit at the Louvre?  Let’s go!  Honey, would you like to go to Paris for the day?”

One flyer, Michael Joyce of Chicago, flew 16 round-trips to London—in a span of just 25 days.  Vroom used his to attend all of his son’s college football games, and ended up giving most of his miles away to AIDS suffers.

Another pass holder, motivational speaker Peter Lowe, had American ticket agents help him book extra elbow room for himself.

“I’d book it as Extra Lowe,” said Lowe.  “They told me how to do it.”

Yes, extra low indeed, considering American itself was getting in on the act.

Financial struggles led American to assign a “revenue integrity unit.”  Over time, the price of such passes escalated, until American stopped selling them in 2007.  Part of this included a full-flung investigation to determine if the pass-holders were violating the terms and conditions of the AAirpass.  In doing so, American determined Rothstein and Vroom each cost American more than $1 million, per year.

In his own words, Bob Crandall, CEO of American from 1985 to 1998, “thought originally it would be something that firms would buy for top employees.  It soon became apparent that the public were smarter than we were.”

Rothstein, Vroom, and few others took the pass far beyond personal use.

Often Rothstein would pick out complete strangers at an airport, and give them an upgrade offer they couldn’t refuse.  Over a period of four years, Rothstein made over 3,000 reservations, but cancelled 2,500 of them—evidence American used to support their allegations he committed fraud by selling his seats.  These charges led to Rothstein’s dismissal from and the AAirpass program and frequent flyer account suspended, as documented in this letter.

Vroom’s profile suggested a similar behavior, often flying with folks he had never traveled with before, and often returning without staying overnight.

So American began trying to catch suspect Mr. Vroom, in the act of selling their seats:

In one instance, an American security agent called Sam Mulroy, a Dallas personal trainer who had been set to fly with Vroom to Europe, and  told him his trip had been canceled. The agent promised a first-class ticket if he admitted to paying Vroom, according to company emails and correspondence.

So it can wrong for Vroom to use his ticket as he saw fit—that is to give generously, but yet still ok for resort extort to bribery?

Evidently, American had no qualms about this, and subsequently cancelled and membership and closed his account, providing this notification.

To be clear, the program has not been suspended–though passes are no longer available for purchase, but is still honored for the other 60 or so members of the AAirpass program.

ANALYSIS

To be honest, I agree with both sides.  In purchasing a product, these passengers had obtained a product, in this case unlimited tickets that they were legally obliged to utilize as they see fit.  I mean, following full payment and receipt of a product, wouldn’t you expect that they could rightfully use and disperse said item as they saw fit?

On the other hand, the practices of Rothstein and Vroom, costs American millions of dollars, especially when holding seats up until the last minute that could otherwise been sold.  If passengers are costing an airline money by abusing a program, then it is reasonable to expected them to be booted from the airline’s frequent flyer program.

And back to the case for the passengers, I think it quite disturbing and completely unacceptable that the airline itself would attempt bribery in order to obtain a fraudulent confession in the case of Mulroy, Vroom’s acquaintance.  Great moral standing, American – respond unethically in light of supposed allegations.

So, was American really in the wrong, or were these passengers just taking “AAdvantage” of the situation?

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