Back in the 1980s, the American Airlines was facing financial issues and decided to launch a frequent fliers program for a quick inflow of money. The program also offered an unlimited first-class lifetime travel pass to fliers. They called it the AAirpass.
It was an attractive offer and of course, it wasn’t cheap at all. $250,000 in the 1980s was a lot of money. But in 1987, one Steve Rothstein decided it was worth it. In fact, he not only purchased the pass, he went for a companion pass as well. Which was worth $150,000.
Steve also made amendments to his contract with American Airlines, allowing the companion to fly out on a different flight right before or after him.
Steve really wanted to get his money’s worth. From making trips around the world to flying to different cities for just a sandwich, the then investment banker did it all.
Here are some numbers for you:
- Number of flights: 10,000
- Miles travelled: 10 million
- Frequent flier miles earned: 40 million
- Trips to England: 500
- Trips to Tokyo: 120
- Trips to Australia: 70
Impressive, isn’t it?
Well, the impressive part really is that he gave away his frequent flier miles to others. Yes, all 40 million miles. What’s even better? On several occasions, he gave away his companion seat to random strangers who were in need of help.
Like once when he met a distraught mother desperate to fly home to her children because their babysitter hadn’t shown up. He also took a priest to Rome to visit the Pope.
Travelling had become his hobby and part of his persona:
A very fun Saturday would be to wake up early and fly to Detroit, rent a car and go to Ontario, have lunch and spend $50 or $100 buying Canadian things.
That combined with his desire to help strangers made him a celebrity in his own right:
I felt those random acts of kindness were exactly the sorts of things that we’re meant to do as people.
He was just a man in love with travelling. He took his son for sporting events around the country. His pass also allowed his daughter, studying in Switzerland, to visit frequently. In the July of 2004, Steve travelled some 18 times. That’s more than a flight every alternate day!
But again, flying had become a part of him. According to the airlines, his total travels were worth $21 million. He became known as the man who flew too much.
So much so that in 2008, when he checked into an airport in Chicago, with a policeman he was helping return home to Bosnia, he got a letter from an AA employee stating that his pass had been revoked.
The airlines stated ‘fraudulent activity’ as the reason for cancelling his pass. Good old Steve didn’t leave his bed for days. “I felt betrayed,” he said. As far as he was concerned, a contract was a contract.
In fact, he had even helped AA sell these passes and spoke at events for them. But the fact that he was helping random people was what probably got him into trouble. Sad, isn’t it?
He had started booking flights under fake names because he didn’t know who the companion would be. Obviously he couldn’t predict who would need his help. So he would book tickets under names like Bag Rothstein.
An investigation proved that in less than 4 years, he had made 3,009 reservations, mostly booking two seats, but had cancelled 2,523 of these reservations.
It is ironic how George Clooney’s character in ‘Up in the Air’ got exquisite treatment from American Airlines for his 10 million frequent flier miles, whereas the actual man who gathered 4 times that got his pass revoked.
AA cancelled the program in 1994 and reintroduced the pass in 2004 for $3 million. But they couldn’t sell any.
Steve is not someone who is likely to have a legacy. But he will always be a saviour to some and they will always remember him. A hero who never wore a cape, but could certainly fly.