The Costly Lesson of American Airlines’ Lifetime AAirpass

In 1981, American Airlines introduced the “lifetime unlimited AAirpass” at a cost of $250,000, which would be equivalent to around $870,000 in today’s currency. This exclusive pass granted lifetime access to unlimited first-class flights, and an additional companion pass could be obtained for an extra $150,000. The airline hoped that this initiative would generate substantial revenue, but it ultimately backfired. Only a handful of people purchased the passes, and those who did made full use of the benefits. Two of the most frequent fliers cost American Airlines a staggering $1 million annually and accumulated over 30 million miles in their travels.

Interestingly, the AAirpass was not the only such program at the time; other airlines offered similar lifetime passes with varying prices and benefits. For example, United Airlines sold a lifetime pass for unlimited travel in first-class cabins at a price of $500,000 in 1988. However, due to similar issues with cost and usage, these programs were eventually discontinued.

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