Man Sues American Airlines For Revoking Lifetime Pass

A man who paid nearly $400,000 in the late 80s for two lifetime passes from American Airlines is now suing the company, claiming they illegally revoked the passes after a supposed rule violation. The passes allowed him and a companion to travel anywhere they wanted in first class for the rest of his life, but AA canceled them after claiming he made “‘speculative reservations’ for companions.”

We don’t know what fine print that violates, exactly, because we haven’t seen the pass agreement. But put your wallet away—AA doesn’t sell lifetime passes anymore.

“Man sues American Airlines after lifetime pass revoked” [Chicago Breaking News] (Thanks to spoolfin!)
(Photo: Irargerich)

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  1. Laughing-Man says:

    Just another cost cutting effort. These companies really need to take an example from southwest – I have NEVER had anything but praise for them.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      @Laughing-Man:

      In 1981, American introduced the AADVANTAGE travel awards program, a revolutionary marketing program to reward frequent fliers. Also that year it unveiled “AAirpass,” a concept that guaranteed fixed personal and business air travel costs with five-year to lifetime range of options.

    • RedwoodFlyer says:

      @Laughing-Man: Btw, I have a companion pass that I got from Southwest for flying 100 flights last year…they gave it to me for free, and whenever I fly, all it costs is about $5 in TSA BS fees for a companion…no 30 advance purchase BS…nothing!

    • Anonymous says:

      @Laughing-Man:

      I’ve never had anything but distaste for southwest. But I will give them that the service I’ve experience and the passenger herding is all complete acceptable under the adage of you get what you pay for.

  2. dragonfire81 says:

    Sounds like perhaps he was trying to use the passes to secure free flights for persons other than himself?

    • Hank Scorpio says:

      @dragonfire81:
      Yeah, they don’t really elaborate on that “speculative reservations” thing. Was he making reservations for himself and a companion, then only the companion shows up to take advantage of the free flight? I’d say that’s pretty shady if that was the case.

      • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

        @Hank Scorpio: No. From what I understand about spec reservations, he booked two seats then only HE showed up. The airline probably got mad because they felt like they could have sold the extra seat. Absent a contract provision saying this is not OK, I think the airline would have to prove not only that they would have sold the seat “but for” the man’s failure to notify them in a timely manner that his companion wasn’t coming, but also that they hadn’t already sold the seat in the first place (to him).

        • samurailynn says:

          @speedwell, avatar of snark: Maybe he felt he needed the extra room, so he books the two seats and knows he is guaranteed to get the extra room when his imaginary companion doesn’t show. Or maybe he actually just has an imaginary friend that always sneaks through security.

        • Hank Scorpio says:

          @speedwell, avatar of snark:
          Ah, thanks. They should have explained that in the article.

          • CapitalC says:

            @Hank Scorpio: So what, I’m not allowed to buy two seats for myself? I’m a skinny guy so it’s not like I’m buying it in order to “overflow”, but seriously… this guy paid for 2 seats anytime he wants with his lifetime pass. I think he should get 2 seats whether or not there’s asses in them.

  3. shaunhoffman says:

    the link to the chicago breaking news at the bottom of the post is wrong, It just links back to consumerist

  4. FatLynn says:

    Only $200,000 each? If they fly a lot, this could be a really good deal.

  5. fantomesq says:

    Chris, I think the link to the Chicago Breaking News piece is:
    [www.chicagobreakingnews.com]

  6. Holden Caufield says I'm a phonie says:

    Will they still honor those tickets to the moon that were sold in the late 60’s/early 70’s? Or was that Delta?

  7. Its The Beer Talking says:

    I feel absolutely awful for this man who apparently could afford to spend $400,000 on a lifetime airline pass.

    Excuse me, I think my ramen noodles are done…

    • noone1569 says:

      @Its The Beer Talking: Hmm, I bet, as a 24 year old, I’ve used at least 150k in airfare (well, most of it military) so it would be pretty easy to come out ahead, specially if you travel for business.

    • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

      @Its The Beer Talking: MMMM fax me some pobre goodness.

    • philipbarrett says:

      @Its The Beer Talking: If he traveled 4 – 8 times a month on AA (as I do) that would be conservatively around 60 flights per year (he stays home for vacations). Let’s say for grins, late 80’s means 1989 then we get to 660 flights. That works out at around $600 per flight and since these passes allow international too, he’s already ahead & it keeps on going.

    • Shadowman615 says:

      @Its The Beer Talking: So are you saying if you had the $400K to spend on something you wouldn’t complain if someone took your money and didn’t hold up their end of the deal?

    • TideGuy says:

      @Its The Beer Talking: Do you always suffer from wealth envy?

    • sebadoh128 says:

      @Its The Beer Talking:

      I feel absolutely AWFUL for you that you HAVE the money to purchase and eat ramen noodles.

      Excuse me, I think my dirt sandwich is ready.

      /Ethiopian

    • tc4b says:

      @Its The Beer Talking: So, this is acceptable customer service? You must be a big fan of DRM, also. You know, paying for something and having it arbitrarily revoked.

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      @Its The Beer Talking: Who cares how you feel about it? You’re not an interested party and you have nothing to add to the conversation.

    • LostTurntable says:

      @Its The Beer Talking: Sorry you’re not rich. Get over it. Just because a guy has money doesn’t give the company right to steal it from him.

    • Sparerib says:

      @Its The Beer Talking: YEAH! STOP MAKING JOKES AND GET OFF THE INTERNET! bum.

      • Its The Beer Talking says:

        @Sparerib: This guy gets it. Back to Deadspin I go…

        For the record, I think AA is definitely in the wrong here. I just don’t care. It’s like if somebody told me that Bill Gates was suing his pool cleaners for causing $400k in damage.

        It’s definitely possible that the purchase made financial sense, after factoring in time value of money and all that jazz. But how many of us could ever fathom dropping that kind of dough up-front?

        Sorry if it came across as “wealth envy”, but my reaction to the story was the same as when Latrell Sprewell turned down a $21 million contract because he “had a family to feed”.

  8. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    A speculative reservation would be if he told the airline he intended to fly with a companion in order to hold the extra seat, and then he wound up not flying with a companion. It’s considered abuse because the airline could likely have sold the seat to someone else.

    It seems to me that the airline has a couple of tough things to prove. First, they need to prove they would have sold that extra seat. Second, they need to prove they haven’t already sold the extra seat to the man with the passes.

  9. XBL: Legend xKWx (Kyle) says:

    @Its The Beer Talking
    “Excuse me, I think my ramen noodles are done…”

    Hooray for $.10 Asian cuisine! A college students best friend!

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      @Kyle: Maybe I can pay $10.00 to get free ramen for life.

      Seriously, though, $400,000 in late 80’s money? I wonder how many other lifetime passes were bought by the young and healthy that are still being used today.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @Kyle: I’m green with envy over you private school rich kids. *I* have to take the ramen packages, slice the cellophane into confetti, then douse them from warm water (stolen from someone else’s hose) and sprinkle dirt over them.
      Although, thinly-sliced feral dog, lightly grilled, does wonders for my my steaming mass of faux-noodle goodness. Or, is that “Pho” noodle? (I’m SUCH a card!)

    • bwcbwc says:

      @Kyle: More like $0.35 now with inflation. Still the best deal in town.

  10. Mr_Human says:

    I wonder if “speculate reservation” mean making multiple bookings for the same trip in order to cover various travel scenarios.

  11. Trai_Dep says:

    Well, at least they didn’t ditch the plane he was in into the Hudson River in an attempt to get rid of the “freeloader”.

  12. MrsLopsided says:

    Sounds like, on more than one occasion, he booked two tickets but canceled the companion ticket at the last minute, thus depriving AA of possible revenue on that first class seat.

    We don’t know the terms/conditions in his contract re bookings & cancellations. He may have violated them.

  13. RandomHookup says:

    I suppose he’s lucky the airline hasn’t gone out of business yet. That’s probably the biggest risk of the transaction.

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @RandomHookup: They probably don’t even need to go out of business. If they end up going through bankruptcy, they will probably cancel any lifetime tickets.

  14. Slow2Whine says:

    @Kyle

    $.10? Where? At Dominick’s, Ramen is $.30/package, and at Jewel, it’s $.33/package.

    Ahh….life is sad that I know this stuff.

  15. michaelgibbons says:

    Does it matter if he didn’t show up with a companion?

    The contract probably said you can book 2 seats. Who knows, though.

    What a sweet purchase by that guy, though.

  16. moore850 says:

    I wonder what the total value of all the flights he was able to take by the time the pass was revoked… it would be really interesting if it was exactly the purchase price.

  17. Vanilla5 says:

    Not a bad deal, $400,000.

    So if he and his companion each got on roughly 40 flights a year (not hard to do when you’re not comin out of pocket for a ticket), over say 35 years, that comes out to like $142/flight.

    Not bad.

    • bwcbwc says:

      @Vanilla5: Well he only got 28 years before they revoked them, so his per ticket cost was more like $177. Still not bad for first class seats.

  18. Snarkysnake says:

    AA better have had a clause in their terms of sale back in ’88 that defines what they are trying to assert. Otherwise, a jury trial (and there would be a jury trial-no binding arbitration bullshit for individuals in those days) might just cost them plenty.

    If I were sitting on a jury , I don’t believe that the “speculative reservations” shuck and jive would pass the laugh/bladder control test.They would have a HUGE burden of proof to overcome…

    • henwy says:

      @Snarkysnake:

      And if I were sitting on a jury, I’d toss this lawsuit out and try to get attorney’s fees awarded to AA. So I guess in the end, it all evens out.

  19. MrsLopsided says:

    Wow. $200,000 per person and he’s had them for 20 years – that’s unlimited first class travel for only $10,000/year.

  20. Vanilla5 says:

    But let’s be clear – I’d be pissed as hell if I paid $400K for two lifetime passes and then they took them away because I didn’t show up with another person. I GAVE YOU ALMOST A HALF MILLION DOLLARS!!!

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      @Vanilla5: No shit. He paid for the reservation so he can do what he wants with it. Without contract terms saying he can’t, this is pretty clear.

    • From the cubicle of PGibbons says:

      @Vanilla5: The _B_illions we’ve given the airlines, banks and other companies has been accepted as though we owed it to them. A few hundred thou by some guy 20 years ago means nothing to them, and they’d prefer he die or violate the rules so they’re off the hook.

      These are industries who routinely hand out millions of our money per _year_ in bonuses to employees who have created the mess their companies are in.

      Frequent flyer programs are basically like Paypal – acting like a “bank” with absolutely no regulation and they can change the value of your assets or kick you out by fiat with the stroke of a pen.

  21. RandaPanda says:

    @kyle and @slowtowhine:

    Those ramen prices are terrible! It’s right around $.09 per package. I usally get a 18 pack and pay right around a $1.50 for the box, which makes life nice.

    Now the ever popular Cup-O-Noodles are more expensive, typically around 50 cents per cup. Not worth it for someone so poor.

  22. mcs328 says:

    His first pass was for 250K for himself. Two years later he paid 150K for another “companion” pass. Maybe “speculative” means he impressed the girl of the week with a first class flight anywhere she wanted and canceled those occasions where his prospective girl of the wasn’t available. However I’m just “speculating” myself.

  23. craptastico says:

    it takes some balls to buy a lifetime airline ticket, considering the lifetime of most airlines tends to be relatively brief. if he’d picked almost any of the other major airlines of the 80s (anyone remember Pan-Am and Eastern along with countless others?)he’d have really been stuck

  24. goodpete says:

    Maybe “speculative reservations” refers to exactly what I would do if I had 2 passes to fly AA for life: RESELL!

    I would let people know that for a fixed price, say $500 domestic, and $1500 international, they could fly first class as my “friend” anywhere in the world.

    Then I would spend my days flying around the country. Average, say, 2 domestic and 1 international flight a week, and you’re bringing in about $125,000/year. Professional airplane passenger, ftw!

    • MBEmom says:

      @plamoni: Good point. If I were AA I would be super PO’ed by that behavior. Still, I can’t even believe they sold lifetime passes in the first place.

  25. flamincheney says:

    If he paid $400K for 2 seats for anytime during his lifetime wasn’t the seat next to him paid for regardless of whether a butt is in it or not?

  26. JustThatGuy3 says:

    That’s actually a heckuva deal. There was a time (no longer, different job), when my _annual_ air travel bill was about $150k.

    A roundtrip Chicago-London in first on American is more than $11k.

  27. headhot says:

    Don’t forget this is 1980s dollars, so my guess is its about $800,000 is today’s bucks.

  28. econobiker says:

    I am surprised that they didn’t revoke him earlier on some sort of 9/11 related balderdash.

    The lifetime deal would have been especially sweet in the era prior to ID requirements for tickets. He could have made some serious cash from walk ups on sold out flights. Some of us remember when you could not only just walk up to the gate (after the lame security check) but buy a ticket from someone not able to fly in cash and then get on the plane. I think that changed around the time of Lockerbee and the need to link luggage to the person flying. Of course the airlines used it to kill this 2nd sale of tickets and charge rebooking fees.

    Ah the freedom, sigh…

  29. Rich LeDay says:

    Try 3 million! That was the going rate for this kind of ticket back in 2004 before they stopped selling them!

  30. mavrick67 says:

    I’ll bet he was trying to make some bucks by selling his “companion” ticket on ebay or craigslist. Airline probably got suspicious when the “companions” kept changing. Say he needs to fly somewhere, he puts up an online ad for the first class companion ticket (say at the bargain rate of a grand), and if it don’t sell, so what, doesn’t cost him nothin’ extra. Do that a couple dozen times a year and he’s pulling in 25K annual.

    • JoshRogan says:

      @mavrick67: I kinda doubt that a guy with $400,000 (in 1980s era) scratch would have the time or inclination to deal with people from eBay or Craiglist just to recoup a few hundred dollars at a pop.

  31. mavrick67 says:

    yeah Josh you’re right, kinda outlandish.
    . . . or my maybe he invested all his money with Bernie Madoff?

  32. Johnny Cache says:

    For 400,000 in advance , they should maybe STFU.

  33. Blueskylaw says:

    American “Aairpass” scheme draws slow response.

    Reaction to American Airlines’ new “Aairpass” travel scheme has pleased the carrier. Purchase of one of a range of Aairpasses allows the buyer to travel on any American Airlines flights for a five, 10, or 15 year period (or even for a lifetime ).

    The fare plan, to be offered for a limited time, comprises five options:

    Five, 10 and fifteen year Aairpass tickets entitle the holder to 25,000 tourist class miles a year at a cost of $19,000, $39,500 and $58,900 respectively.

    Lifetime Aairpass tickets for those ages 52 and above, allow 25,000 miles a year at $66,000.

    Leisure Lifetime Aairpass for the over 62 age group allows 12,500 miles a year at $51,000.

    A five-year Leisure Aairpass for over 65’s provides 12,500 miles a year for $8,000.

    An unlimited Lifetime Aairpass valid for unlimited miles in any class of service at $250,000.

    The airline had received 1,500 enquiries from people interested in the fixed-rate, long-term flight plan within a week of it’s announcement.

    American has sold two Aairpasses, one for a five year period and one of the ten-year tickets. The carrier says it did not expect an instant rush for the passes, because it is the “sort of thing people need to think about.”

    American’s major competitors, Trans World and United, said they had been aware that American was planning to launch a major new marketing project, but were unaware of the details. A TWA spokesman said that the airline was “preparing a competitive response very soon.” But it looks now as if TWA will do nothing unless Aairpass shows better results than it has so far.

  34. Blueskylaw says:

    @Consumerist Reply “button” still no go

    The link for the above article is:

    [www.flightglobal.com]

  35. ringo00 says:

    Has anyone pointed out that even if he did book an “imaginary friend”, American very probably overbooked the flight anyway and thus, didn’t lose any money.

  36. MrsLopsided says:

    $400,000 upfront = missing opportunity to earn $12,000 interest income /year @ 3%.

  37. Altdotweb says:

    $400K from 1988 adjusted for inflation would be worth about $750K today

  38. outoftheblew says:

    Perhaps somewhere along the line, they amended their free-tickets agreement. But he could’ve opted out of the changes if he’d only bought all his future tickets right then and there. So he opted in, and agreed to the changes.

    I also find it funny that there’s so much speculation about what a speculative reservation is.

  39. kwsventures says:

    Another case of “did you read your contract?”. I am sure AMR had a contract that stated what this guy could and could not do. Smells like he screwed up. Oldest game in the book: break the rules, void the contract, then bitch and complain until you get your way.

  40. mannyv says:

    It could also be that since First Class doesn’t exist, AA canceled the pass because he can’t actually fly anywhere?

  41. RedwoodFlyer says:

    That picture reminds me….how about AA come up with a paint scheme that actually works with 21st century composites? The engine nacelles, radome on the nose, and vert/horiz. stabilizers look like someone buffed them with Clearasil or something.

  42. atomoverride says:

    opps you farted, your pass is invalid.

  43. wcnghj says:

    @ JustThatGuy3:
    “A roundtrip Chicago-London in first on American is more than $11k.”

    Total Price 7578.90 USD

    AUG 18-25

  44. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Hmm, sounds like AA execs decided they were losing too much money on this guy.

    They should have just done what they’ve done to everyone else…make it up in fees. “Oh, your airfare is still free sir, but the drinks are now $25,000 each.”

    I hope he wins his lawsuit.

  45. cowboyesfan says:

    He did indeed resell the companion ticket.

    Another thing that the article did not mention is that the pass was originally purchased in the 80’s by a church for him to use as humanitarian purposes. The passes were issued in his name, not the name of the church.

    AA has been trying to find a way to cancel his passes for a long time.

  46. bobloblawsblog says:

    i love southwest, too. funny, friendly, and as far as my experiences, generally on time.

  47. redkamel says:

    If I had 400k to spend I would have a hard time being smart enough to use it for lifetime tickets. I would have figures I’d take tickets as they come and bought a brand new Testarossa.

  48. trujunglist says:

    I think it’s safe to say that you’d only make this deal if you flew very, very often, so all of your estimates are likely grossly off. I mean, think of the interest you could make on $400k over that period of time, or some other investment. It’s not a terrible investment if you travel frequently, but it’s not the best either considering the bankruptcy risk factor etc, so I’m assuming that this dude was commuting every single day or something via airplane, which would easily make the initial price plus loss of any return on that money worth the investment.

  49. Ilo says:

    I’m sure what happened is this: He routinely books two seats on every flight even when he is travelling alone, so that he will always have the row to himself. He tries to claim that he DID have a friend, they just keep cancelling at the last minute (which is where the “speculative” comes from)

    His argument: I paid for that second seat already, so I can do whatever I want with it.

    Their argument: we sold you these lifetime tickets knowing that the odds are you would frequently use only one instead of two seats. If you had wanted to buy an empty seat next to you every single time you are travelling alone, we would have charged you more money. After all, they carged him substantially less for the “companion” seat than they were charging for the first seat. They were able to charge less because they projected it wouldn’t be used as much as the first seat.