Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 1, 2010

Ten Million Frequent Flier Miles: Actual Milestone or Myth?

Frequent flier Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) in the movie "Up in the Air", contemplating ten million mile status on American Airlines' AAdvantage program.

In the movie “Up in the Air,” frequent flier Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) crisscrosses the skies with a dream of reaching a milestone: Ten million miles flown on American Airlines.

Is that really possible?

Yes, although that calculates out to approximately 400 complete circumnavigations of Planet Earth.

Has anyone actually done it?

Several people say they have earned ten million miles. But have they actually flown that far? It depends on what you count, it seems.

Jim Morehouse, a management consultant from Chicago told a newspaper this week that he now has “something north of 10 million” frequent flier miles on AA. In 2009, he made 104 trips on the airline. He said that was a fairly typical year.

Another Chicagoan, Jerold Solovy, 79, said he passed the ten million mark on American last year.

Did the flight crew pop champagne corks for him, as they did for Mr. Bingham in the movie?

No.

“American Airlines wrote me a nice letter,” Mr. Solovy said, adding it wasn’t a big deal to him. “I don’t even think I kept the letter.”

Mr. Solovy said he has been flying American for 64 years, mostly between Chicago’s O’Hare and New York’s LaGuardia.

“They treat me royally. I know everyone and they are very nice to me,” Solovy said.

But neither Mr. Morehouse nor Mr. Solovy qualifies as the AAdvantage Miles champ.

That honor may go to Phillip Dunkelberger, who claims to have earned more than 14 million miles.

Mr. Dunkelberger, the president of a data protection firm, travels regularly internationally. Most of his miles have been earned on American.

“But I’m also an elite on United and Lufthansa,” he told interviewers.

He remembers getting a nice meal on the flight which put him over ten million.

“But what brought a smile to my face wasn’t so much what I drank and what I ate,” he said. “I think it was when I landed and realized I’ve been able to enrich my life with business travel. It was more a happy thought than anything else.”

What special perks, if any, can a ten million mile flier expect?

Do they get a special number to call, just like Mr. Bingham in the movie?

Yes.

When a storm recently threatened Mr. Morehouse’s flight plans, he said, “I dialed a secret number and found out exactly what the situation was.”

How about “Graphite Status”?

No. That was invented for the film.

The Concierge Key?

American won’t confirm it but it exists – and the key is black, by the way – but Concierge membership is by invitation only; it’s not necessarily based on the number of mileage accrued. Celebrities – like Mr. Clooney (who is only in “reel” life a high-mileage flier) – are accorded that privilege in real life.

Executive Platinum is about as high as a frequent flier can go on American.

Mr. Dunkelberger said that is good for first class upgrades, no luggage fees, lounge access and a 100 percent flight mileage bonus for every trip – so he earns miles twice as fast as mere mortals.

One other previously undisclosed perk: The members of the ten million mile “club” were invited to a special, private screening of “Up in the Air”.

Why does American get all the glory in the movie? Because they cooperated in the filming, for one thing. For another, they debuted the world’s first frequent-flier program, back in 1981. AAdvantage also has the largest program of its kind, with more than 60 million members around the globe.

United Airlines also keeps track of its most frequent fliers (I got a plaque when I achieved “Million Miler” status). The highest level is its “Global Services” program.

“We don’t discuss the criteria for being invited into this elite club,” a spokesman said.

But United can tell you who the top Global Services mileage accruer is: Thomas Stuker.

“Global services is like dying and going to heaven,” said Mr. Stuker, 56, a sales and management trainer for the auto industry. “They take care of every single Global person 24/7.”

Mr. Stuker said special operators will work on his special Global Services requests even while he’s still in the air.

“When I call the 800 number in Michigan, most of the time I don’t even have to introduce myself,” he said. “They know me. I got my own 1-800 KISS MY ASS hotline.”

Over the years, Mr. Stuker has enjoyed perks such as $500 of free wine one Christmas, cakes on his birthday and gourmet dinners. He even had a United-sponsored appearance as a diner on the old “Seinfeld” television show.

How many miles, you ask, has Mr. Stuker accrued?

Over 30 million.

But “miles accrued” are not the same as “miles flown”.

Mr. Stuker said his “butt-in-seat” flights only amount to 8.8 million since he started in 1982. His total has been padded by “bonus miles” from various promotions, status upgrades, and affinity credit card extras. (A University of California-Davis professor, in 2000, accumulated more than one million miles just for buying 10,000 cups of pudding.)

Mr. Stuker said his goal is 10 million actual miles.

But he has a stipulation where he will be when that happens:

“It won’t be on a flight to Des Moines or Omaha,” he said, of Ryan Bingham’s somewhat anticlimactic flight in the movie. “I’ll take a bus before I cross the mark on one of those flights. It’s going to be an international flight, probably Europe with my girlfriend. I’m going to plot it out exactly and know when I hit it. And hell yeah, there is going to be champagne.”

The final question: What do ten million mile fliers do with all those miles?

Redeem them for more tickets, for more flights.

Jerry Garrett

January 1, 2010


Responses

  1. Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe! I’ll go and read some more! What do you see the future of this being?

  2. I watched that movie last night, so i thought google would be able to tell me about this stuff…and it did. thanks for the effort gone to write this article.

  3. […] […]

  4. […] skies with the dream of reaching a milestone: ten million miles flown on American Airlines.  As this blog post so eloquently notes, cynics doubt that such a milestone is physically or logistically possible.  I […]

  5. I have currently one way economy class milage ticket, reservation No.PXJYKX departing at Natita on January 18, 2011. Now I would like to make up grade from economy to business class. Can I pay some diferrence by cash or can I ma ke some advance millage borrowing from credit card co? Please advise me what I can do for this case. Thanks.
    Katsuhisa Hasegawa
    AA#5466 1602 5753 9245

    • Ask the airline what your options are. Not all tickets can be upgraded. It depends on the fare code – or what you paid for the ticket. If you paid full, undiscounted coach fare, your chances of upgrading are better. But full coach fare is very expensive. Do you have a frequent flier account with this airline? Sometimes they will let you use miles to upgrade on international flights. But they will not usually let you upgrade with money – they will just tell you that you should have bought a business class ticket!

  6. concierge key exists. you hit it at 5 million miles. comes with private reservation telephone number and free upgrades on all flights and partner airlines

  7. I attended a workshop by one of the world’s best executive coachs; Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. He SHOWED me the American Airlines card with 10 million miles clocked on it

  8. Sat next to a concierge key holder Friday. He showed his key to me and said they treated him like a star about half the time when he got off the plane- said he gets kind of embarrassed with it but loves it. Says the people on their dedicated line are the most experienced in the airline, and he knows his personally and really likes that aspect of the program.

  9. Saw an AAvantage platinum luggage tag last week showing 14 million miles.

    • Thanks for that information. Hard to conceive of how much time in the air that translates to…

  10. As a Concierge Key member I can tell you guys that some of you are way off on your stories or have been lied to. The concept of Concierge Key is used as a way to lure the decision maker for corporations that AA is trying to vie for their business. I work for a very large corporation, and several members of our SLT as well as our travel manager have been given the Concierge Key status. AA basically goes out of the way to impress our team, show us how dedicated they are to our business in hopes of getting our entire company to use them as our preferred carrier for all of our business trips. There is no additional status, no free upgrades, no real key, etc. It is merely a denotation that is in the PNR, so ground and in-flight staff are aware to take special care with such key accounts. Yes, a Special Service Representative comes aboard and says hello, asks how everything went and introduces the Purser of the flight to me. In a nutshell, its a sales attempt that AA determines who are the key people in a company and then tries to impress them in order to win a large account. Hope that clarifies all the silliness that I read on here about this secret status.

    • Thanks Marc. That is consistent with how a lot of industries do business. (Hertz has – or had – a Five Star Card, which was light years beyond No. 1 Club status). I would imagine, however, that in addition to decision-makers and gate-keepers, AA allows Ten Million Milers to enjoy Concierge Key privileges.

  11. Most of this post was lifted, verbatim, from a Dec 2009 Time magazine article (http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/50064358/). You ought to cite your sources.

    • Actually, it wasn’t. It was all original research. But thanks for writing in.

  12. Very nice write-up. I absolutely appreciate this site. Keep it up!

  13. Interesting, but the film says he did 10m inside of america in a year. is this really possible???

  14. […] skies with the dream of reaching a milestone: ten million miles flown on American Airlines.  As this blog post so eloquently notes, cynics doubt that such a milestone is physically or logistically possible.  I […]


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