Every frequent flyer’s fantasy, a gold plated life time unlimited first class travel pass, ceased to be offered by American Airlines in 1994, when the price had risen to $US 1.01 million, but until it was interrupted by its current bankruptcy, the carrier had been trying to ‘terminate’ those canny enough to have bought and used them for many millions of dollars worth of benefits ever since.
There is a cracker of a story on this in the Chicago Tribune. An American contact who sent us the link said that when the schemes were dreamed up by senior management, they were known as ‘the Neutron bomb’ by less senior managers.
I have a faint recollection of something not quite like this being on offer in Qantas way back, but haven’t asked the question since I gather the airline is too preoccupied with terminating itself than going after aging privileged individuals who may have gamed any such arrangement in the past.
As a teaser, the Chicago Tribune expose reveals that one current unlimited AA pass holder used it to fly 16 return trips to London worth $125,000 in a 25 day period recently.
Others who had also purchased companion passes were also selling free tickets to strangers and acquaintances as income, which incredibly, was not specifically prohibited in the terms and conditions of the scheme.
These passes incidentally generated full class of travel points on all unlimited travel made on them, so the metaphorical reference to them as the ‘Neutron Bomb’ might have more accurately described them as like plutonium fast breeder cycle reactors.
You could turn yourself into a one person boutique business selling companion fares, and accumulating reward flights from all free flights that could also be assigned, for a price, to anyone you declared to be a companion, a term that was also not defined in the fine print.
It’s doubtful that any airline today would do anything like mint gold passes.
But it must cut deep when people like those interviewed for this story take up semi-permanent residence in first class as jetrosexuals, on a constant roster of visiting family, attending sporting events anywhere, flying 1000 miles to try a hamburger in a quaint country town, or following operatic and theatrical or concert performances world wide, at whim.
Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.