The Rise And Fall Of The AAirpass — American Airlines’ $250,000 Lifetime Ticket

Three decades ago, 28 lucky people managed to snag the greatest travel deal in history, courtesy of American Airlines. It was dubbed the “unlimited AAirpass.” For a one-time fee of $250,000 ($642,828 today), this pass gave the buyer unlimited first-class travel for life. A companion pass could be purchased for an additional $150,000, allowing the pass holder to bring along anyone for the ride. Billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, said it was one of the best purchases he’s ever made. There was just one problem: AAirpass was such a good deal that it ended up costing the airlines millions of dollars per year, and by 1994 American had discontinued the unlimited AAirpass. One of those 28 people who was fortunate enough to get in on the deal was investment banker Steve Rothstein (inset), who purchased an AAirpass and companion pass for $383,000. Over the next 25 years, he booked more than 10,000 flights, costing the airlines approximately $1 million a year in taxes, fees and lost ticket sales. It didn’t take long for the airline to find reasons to revoke his passes. When they discovered that Rothstein made 3,000 reservations in a span of four years and cancelled 2,500 of them, they charged Rothstein with “fraudulent activity,” even though the practice was not prohibited in the original contract. Rothstein immediately filed suit against American Airlines for unlawful termination of a contract, but he was outmatched by the airline’s bazillion lawyers. Then, in 2011, American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Rothstein never recovered his AAirpasses, but Mark Cuban’s are still valid.