Steven Rothstein and Jacques Vroom each paid more than $350,000 for an unlimited first-class ticket and a companion ticket called the AAirpass, allowing them to fly alone or with a companion anywhere in the world, forever. They had gotten to know flight crews by name, routinely taking a flight every other day during the course of a month. Vroom would be brought his usual meal of three salmon appetizers, no dessert and a glass of champagne right after takeout without even asking.
Creative uses seemed limitless. When bond broker Willard May of Round Rock, Texas, was forced into retirement after a run-in with federal securities regulators in the early 1990s, he turned to his trusty AAirpass to generate income. Using his companion ticket, he began shuttling a Dallas couple back and forth to Europe for $2,000 a month.
In 2007, a pricing analyst focused American Airline’s attention to how much the AAirpass was costing the company. An investigator was assigned to find out whether anyone was violating the rules.
Rothstein, she found, would sometimes pick out strangers at the airport and give them surprise first-class upgrades with his companion pass. Once he flew a woman he’d just met in New Delhi to Chicago, a lift American later valued at nearly $7,500.
It wasn’t against the rules to treat random people to your companion pass. The investigator did find that Rothstein made 3,009 reservations in less than four years, but canceled 2,523 of them. This was a red flag that he was booking flights he never intended on taking, hemorrhaging the airline millions of dollars. The airline suspected that the two men were selling tickets, which was against the rules, so they decided to catch him in the act.
Airline security confronted one of Vroom’s companions, Auyon Mukharji, a recent college graduate who studied music, and detained and escorted him to a private office. They demanded he confess to giving Vroom money.
But Mukharji insisted he hadn’t, and American ultimately released him and gave him a coach ticket home. He could not be reached for comment.