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How Much Would You Pay for Unlimited First Class Flights?

How Much Would You Pay for Unlimited First Class Flights?

If you’ve been an avgeek for some time, you likely remember that once upon a time–1981 to be exact–in American Airlines’ history, they introduced the AAirpass.

It cost $250,000 (or about $711,000 in 2020 dollars) and allowed the flyer unlimited lifetime flights and unlimited access to American Airlines’ Admirals Club location. You could include a companion–a different person each time if you’d like as long as they flew with you–for an additional $100,000 (about $285,000 in 2020).

Over the life of the program, American Airlines sold 65 unlimited AAirpasses. Buyers included Michael Dell, Mark Cuban, and Willie Mays.

So, How Much?

Our question is, how much would you pay for unlimited business class flights on an airline? The question originally popped up in the United Airlines forum where MileagePlus members are feeling less than charitable towards United after several unpopular decisions this year (among them, changing their cancellation policy four times in just about as many days).

But, while the way airlines are handling this unprecedented crisis is under scrutiny, so is their ability to remain financially viable during increasingly-lengthy stay at home orders, border closures, and travel restrictions.

American Airlines was also facing financial trouble in 1981 when they offered their unlimited passes. Hit hard by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and the increased market competition and decreased ticket prices it brought with it, American posted a $76 million dollar loss in 1980.

In times like these, it may be worth speculating whether or not airlines would offer more golden tickets (or something similar, like PassPlus) to get passengers back in seats as they get back on their feet.


So, how much? Toss out your number for United Airlines first, then share how much you’d pay for your favorite and least favorite airline (assuming that there’s no overlap).


[Image Source: United Airlines]

View Comments (19)


  1. MaxVO


    March 20, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    I recall people were having doubts that AA would honor those passes even in 1981. And that was before bankruptcy, takeover by US Airways, and the 2019-20 miles theft from frequent flyers.

  2. Sweet Willie

    Sweet Willie

    March 20, 2020 at 4:50 pm

    not a chance would I buy!! Maybe a naive point of view but back then I had faith that businesses would do the right thing for their customers, nowadays, forget about it, there would be some legal outs that the corp attorneys came up with and the consumer would be screwed. (I really am an optimist most times !!)

  3. jonsail

    March 20, 2020 at 4:56 pm

    In the early 2000s United had a couple of programs they might consider re-instituting. One was a payment of $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000 for which you got instant status at one of three levels and you could use the payment to pay for airfares for a year period.

    The other was a fairly nominal membership payment that let your buy two for the price of one first class tickets.

    When things get better, United, may consider one of the programs to boost immediate income.

  4. drvannostren

    March 21, 2020 at 4:26 am

    Yea this seems like a trap, like they’ll honor it for 5-10 years then change the name of the airline and make you take them to court or something. I mean, if I had that kinda cheese sitting around, I probably wouldn’t be feeling the need to buy unlimited flights. I’d probably just buy the tickets I want whenever I wanted them. Jonsail’s ideas, or rehashing of old ideas are pretty good.

  5. mozartmara

    March 21, 2020 at 6:33 am

    Many years ago, my mom and dad gave each other Eastern Airline passes for Christmas presents. For $1,000 each they could fly once a week on Eastern Airlines. They flew 49 of those 52 weeks.
    Eastern Airlines No longer exists!

  6. temecularedwing

    March 21, 2020 at 7:00 am

    Can we start a thread for an economy class unlimited pass? While enticing, a first pass is totally out of reach. Economy pass for the rest of us, maybe…………….

  7. sfcharles1

    March 21, 2020 at 7:02 am

    I would never trust United or any US airline with my money.
    I remember reading about a man who paid all that money and based his life and his business on the AA unlimited flights. AA took it away one day. No notice. He sued to get it back, and AA burned him out. That was 30 years ago. With the current utter void of regulation and government oversight- for god’s sake, the FAA doesn’t even check Boeing’s safety records when they are building new planes – you can only imagine how the airlines would statch it away the minute you got close to having it pay for itself…
    Never would I trust United or any US based airline with anything…

  8. WileyDog

    March 21, 2020 at 7:20 am

    Given my age (72), I might go for around $50k for unlimited Business class and another $30k for a companion ticket. United would be my airline but only because it happens to fly to the places I go most often.

  9. gkbiiii

    March 21, 2020 at 7:27 am

    After a trip to Mexico City with United, in International Business; I would not buy the pass for any price. AA or Delta, it would be a different consideration. With the pass, would you earn mileage like the original? What about having to pay taxes and fees? I would prefer a set period of time 5/10/20/30 year option, which leaves the airline no wiggle room. If they take back your status, you get X% back, plus legal fees. So lets price this at $100,000/$200,000/$400,000/$600,000 and true lifetime at $750,000.

  10. Tino

    March 21, 2020 at 9:38 am

    Date a flight attendant, fly for free.

  11. simonsays11

    March 21, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    As a nurse, business/first class overseas tickets are a stretch for my budget. I would like the opportunity to prepurchase certain routes at a substantial discount.

    I am already scared I will lose the value of the miles I have been saving. (For years).

  12. equals42

    March 21, 2020 at 2:36 pm

    There’s no way anyone should trust that they won’t drop that benefit with the next bankruptcy. There will be another bankruptcy. That’s their business model apparently.

  13. POatParker

    March 21, 2020 at 3:44 pm

    Is AA still honoring the Airpass today? If not, so much for “Lifetime!” I do not trust Dog Parker to live up to the promise. Hopefully, he will be gone soon anyway!

  14. snidely

    March 21, 2020 at 4:02 pm

    If I were 50 might think about economy. Maybe business. Now at 70, would not.
    Problem is: We flew a lot on Virgin FLL-SFO. The airline that took them over (Alaska) cancelled that route. Would have been stuck w. a worthless pass if Virgin had offered it.

  15. snidely

    March 21, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    If I were 50 might think about economy. Maybe business. Now at 70, would not.
    Problem is: We flew a lot on Virgin FLL-SFO. The airline that took them over (Alaska) cancelled that route. Would have been stuck w. a worthless pass if Virgin had offered it.
    I think airlines could offer other unusual fares. Eg. I am often flexible within and could leave a day earlier or later than originally planned. Sell me a discounted ticket for Wed. and give them the option to change it to Tues or Thurs. (w. 5 days warning).
    Southwest used to be a discount airline w. many flites within Ca. (They still have them – but can fly across country for what they now charge.) Had a ticket from SAN to OAK. Got to airport earlier enough to take earlier flite which was only half full. Wanted to charge me extra $$$. Waited for my flite – turned out there were people on standby who couldn’t get on. This policy makes no sense to me.

  16. Gynob001

    March 22, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    No, I wouldn’t buy. I can’t afford to pay first class, or business class, now that I am retired. Not it is worth unless you fly a red eye or overnight trip to Europe or Asia! Despite my age, I don’t mind sitting in economy for three or four hours. I wouldn’t even buy economy comfort. I am not tall or bulky, although I don’t mind the snacks. But for the extra money, you can bring a lot of snacks onboard.
    My sugegstion-if the ultra rich want to buy and fly first class, there are other options. Charter a flight.
    Airlines should have comfortable seats. My only dread is when someone next to you sweat a lot, intrude into your space, cross their leg on their knee so I had to see their dirty footware…

  17. oopsz

    March 22, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    It should be noted that in 1981 interest rates were exorbitant, so selling passes was an alternative to taking out usurious loans. That is not a problem in 2020 and for many reasons (including a consumer economy fueled on cheap credit) I doubt we will see those kinds of interest rates again in my lifetime.

  18. Bouncer


    March 24, 2020 at 3:52 am

    I doubt you’d find many takers, unless the airlines would be willing to put up a cash bond that if they declare bankruptcy or otherwise cancel the program you get your money back. Fundamentally, these companies, in their drive to the bottom line at all costs, have completely lost consumer confidence. We don’t fly United for any other reason than we *have* to for that particular leg or because it’s significantly cheaper.

    There’s no trust, because they’ve destroyed their loyalty base. And without trust, few are going to wager on something like this. Plus, let’s be very direct. The FC product isn’t 1/10th of what it used to be. It’s a modified version of business now on US airlines, and that’s about all it is. The airport experience isn’t what it used to be either, with the shoe carnival still taking place in the US (though thankfully, not very often in Europe). It’s a hassle now. It’s not as much fun, and few people are going to jet off to London for a day, see a play, overnight and return home the next day. Entirely too much hassle these days to bother and entirely too many overfull aircraft and general unpleasantness.

    Anyone who CAN afford such a lifetime FC ticket is going to find more value, convenience and general satisfaction buying fractional ownership in a private jet or a membership in a private jet club. Heck you can buy a Wheels Up card at Costco for 17000 and it comes with a 3500 voucher credit.


  19. mc4bbs


    March 26, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    Nope! They will screw the little guy over at first opportunity. Just ask Jacques Vroom and Steve Rothstein!

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