Tom Stuker, United Airlines’ Most Frequent Flyer, Hits 24 Million Miles

Tom Stuker, United Airlines’ Most Frequent Flyer, Hits 24 Million Miles

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If you’re into miles & points and/or frequently fly with United Airlines, you’ve probably heard of Tom Stuker. He’s United’s most frequent flyer, and almost certainly the world’s most frequent flyer who doesn’t work for an airline. Yesterday he passed his latest milestone, as he became a 24 million mile flyer with United. He’s averaging over a million miles per year, so at this rate, he should become a 25 million mile flyer in early 2025.

As you’d expect, he’s a legend at the airline, and is treated very well (and conversely, he’s known for treating United employees well). United names planes after him, has parties when he reaches milestones, etc. The guy is quite proud of himself too, and even travels in a vest that has his name and how many millions of miles he has flown written on it (he already had his updated 24 million mile vest for yesterday’s special flight).

In this post I wanted to cover his latest milestone, and talk a bit about why he flies so much, and how he pays for it.

Stuker has a lifetime United Airlines travel pass

Stuker has received a lot of media attention over the years, though until last year, didn’t publicly reveal one detail — how his flights are paid for. We finally learned the details, thanks to a Washington Post story, and around the same time, he shared some details on FlyerTalk.

Back in the day, many US airlines sold lifetime flight passes, including in first class. In 1990, Stuker purchased a lifetime United first class travel pass for him and a companion. The cost? It was $290,000 for one person, or $510,000 for someone and their companion, and he purchased the latter.

He has taken unlimited travel to the extreme, and has basically been flying nonstop ever since. For example, 2019 was Stuker’s “best” year, as he took 373 flights that year, covering a distance of 1.46 million miles (that’s an average segment length of nearly 4,000 miles, roughly the equivalent of Chicago to London).

If he had paid cash for those tickets, they would have cost $2.44 million that year alone. He once spent 12 straight days flying, without staying in a hotel. Stuker says that this is the best money he has ever spent, pointing out that his two divorces cost him a fortune, and that he has lost more than the cost of the lifetime flight pass on a house he bought.

Stucker earned over 100 million miles flying United Airlines

Why has Stuker flown so much? Well, until several years ago, the now 70-year-old car dealership consultant seemed to do it mostly for… the miles. Back when United awarded miles based on distance flown rather than dollars spent, the lifetime flight pass was eligible to accrue miles, and Stuker also has United’s invitation-only Global Services status.

So over his years of flying, Stuker claims that he has racked up over 100 million redeemable miles. Now, miles are probably worth a bit less if you have unlimited confirmed space first and business class flights on United. Many people may prefer to fly on partner airlines, but Stuker is so busy wanting to get to the next million miler threshold.

So, what has Stuker done with the miles? He has redeemed them mostly for non-flights. Stuker has redeemed miles for hotel suites, Crystal cruises, gourmet meals, and even for $50,000 worth of Walmart gift cards, in order to redo his brother’s house. He even redeemed some miles in an auction once to be able to appear in an episode of Seinfeld.

Keep in mind that redeeming miles for non-flying means generally doesn’t represent a good deal, since you typically get well under a cent of value per mile. But when you have access to nine figures worth of miles, I suppose the value you’re getting doesn’t really matter.

As mentioned above, Stuker reportedly no longer earns miles, given that United now awards miles based on dollars spent rather than distance flown. Since he’s not spending anything on tickets, he’s also not earning miles.

Stuker has flown 24 million miles with United

I’m impressed United Airlines treats Stuker so well

I think it’s a given that Stuker is by far United’s most unprofitable customer. But good on him, because if airlines are going to sell unlimited lifetime flight passes, get ready for people to fly an “unlimited” amount.

So I’m impressed by the extent to which United embraces Stuker, and celebrates his milestones. He’s really treated as United’s most VIP passengers, and just about all employees seem to know him, and he frequently has parties thrown for him by the airline.

I imagine in many ways this great treatment only causes him to fly more, leading to the airline losing more money on him. But big picture, he’s a huge advocate for United, and always talks about how great the airline is, so it’s also good publicity for the airline. Good on United for making him feel so welcome and special, and honoring its commitment, even if he takes it to the extreme.

Stuker sure leads an unconventional life

Everyone should do what makes them happy in life, as long as they’re not harming others (I’m sure many would argue that flying so many miles is harming others, but that’s neither here nor there, for the purposes of this story). I think we can all agree Stuker lives quite the interesting — and bizarre — life.

It seems like Stuker genuinely loves the people at United, and has a friendship with many employees. He seems like a really nice guy, and I’ve never heard anyone at United say anything bad about him. It also seems like he really likes the attention. That’s not a dig, but the guy wears a vest that shows his name and how many miles he has flown, which isn’t exactly what someone would do if they wanted to fly under the radar.

To 16-year-old me, Stuker would’ve been my hero, and I would have dreamed of his life. To 34-year-old me, Stuker’s life sounds just a little unpleasant, to put it mildly. I couldn’t imagine flying that much, and also couldn’t imagine doing all that travel on a US airline. Doesn’t he get bored of the food, the seats, the entertainment, etc.? Of course to each their own, and what matters is that Stuker enjoys it.

The one thing I’d be curious about is what most motivates Stuker to fly so much. I have to imagine it’s two factors, as it’s the only explanation I can come up with:

  • Does he genuinely enjoy flying so much, and interacting with United employees and customers?
  • Does he just want to set an unbelievable record that no one will ever be able to beat?

It’s one thing when he used to earn miles for his flights back in the day, since at least you could argue he was being rewarded for all that flying. But if he’s not earning miles and is just flying over a million miles a year, it’s kind of harder to make sense of the logic. I’m guessing he at least has a goal of reaching 25 million miles ASAP, though let’s see what happens after that.

Stuker really seems to enjoy flying

Bottom line

Tom Stuker is United Airlines’ most frequent flyer, and he has now passed 24 million miles with the airline. He has a lifetime unlimited travel pass on the airline, which he bought in 1990.

Historically he has primarily flown to earn miles, and he has racked up over 100 million miles with the airline, which he could redeem for gift cards, cruises, and more. However, nowadays he doesn’t earn miles anymore, but that hasn’t caused him to slow down with his travel.

What an interesting and unusual life Stuker has…

What’s your take on Stuker’s flying? Would you want his life?

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  1. ernestnywang Member

    Couldn't he choose to earn miles in another frequent flyer programme?

  2. SleepingBearProd Guest

    It appears that 25 Million may not happen because it has been reported and confirmed by Tom that United as revoked his pass and currently in litigation.

  3. Sam Guest

    Just met him briefly yesterday celebrating the milestone at a comedy club in San Francisco with his entourage :) Pretty chill guy and definitely addicted to flying. And surprisingly he has not been to every country!

    1. Anna Guest

      Every country? First, he doesn't travel, he flies around. Second, United doesn't really go that many places....

    2. Greg Guest

      United has added a bunch of service to secondary and tertiary European cities nonstop from Newark. I flew to Naples, Italy 1-2 weeks ago and I'm flying to Porto, Portugal next Sunday.

  4. BC Guest

    I agree with your post, but I do want to point out that it's a little ironic for you to be making fun of Tom Stuker's vest when at the bottom of your blog page, you have prominently displayed.....Miles Traveled, Words Written and Posts Published...!

    1. NFSF Diamond

      It's not ironic at all. Ben's not wearing that info on his clothes in public, it's in the footer of his blog about miles/points/travel

  5. ZTravel Gold

    Has he been to every country?

  6. Jake Guest

    If he has a long life it will be a lot cheaper than living in an assisted living facility. I don't think United will change diapers though.

  7. Crosscourt Guest

    This guy, who I've never heard of, should get a life. And if he bought a first class so called life pass, does he get a refund in part as UA doesn't have first anymore?

  8. Wendell Schloneger Guest

    I would say the man had mental problems.
    To live your life in an airport terminal or in an uncomfortable airplane seat is not a good life. Life is too short to live in a metal container!
    United will not allow me to say negative words???

  9. The WP Guest

    I thought the point of flying (or taking any form of transportation) is, in general, to get from point A to point B, then enjoy or do there whatever prompted you to travel.

    But to some (and I included myself here, sometimes) it’s the process of traveling. Crazy.

  10. My PNR is GR8VAG Guest

    I'd love to know the funniest PNR he has ever had

  11. Sonofdad Member

    If he doesn’t earn miles anymore (because he paid $0 for each flight), then it’s crazy that his miles count towards lifetime miles. (And therefore he has lifetime GS). It doesn’t seem fair that his free flights count but everybody else’s award flights don’t count.

    1. Anthony Guest

      It is fair though because this *is* a cash fare. Just because he paid the price a long time ago and it doesn’t cost him anything now doesn’t change the fact it *is* a cash fare, and the rules state that cash fares are what earn those lifetime miles.

    2. Jerry Wheen Gold

      One needs 4 million miles for lifetime GS status - which he probably reached some 15 years ago. From then on it's, well, lifetime.

  12. Chris Guest

    Are we supposed to feel good or bad about this? Where is your family? Do you have a family? Where is your home? Do you have access to modern technology, like Zoom? These types of people, who try to spend as much time as possible in the sky, as opposed to on the ground in the real world, seem to generally be eccentric, socially awkward, obstinate, and self-absorbed.

    1. My PNR is GR8VAG Guest

      These types of people, who try to spend as much time as possible in the sky, as opposed to on the ground in the real world, seem to generally be eccentric, socially awkward, obstinate, and self-absorbed.

      I have found the opposite of this to be true. Look up Tom Stuker's TV interviews.

  13. Joe Guest

    Regarding the $290k/$510k disparity: $290k was the cost for the pass for one person. Tom bought a pass with one companion for $510k. Not sure why WaPo couldn't make that clear.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Joe -- Will update post to reflect that, thanks!

    2. Robert Fahr Guest

      Armchair therapists theorizing on the why. So many comments assuming he must "hate his wife and family". The pass allows for a companion. Nowhere did I read Mr. Stuker is traveling alone.

  14. Tom Guest

    I wonder if he is on the autism spectrum. I think traits like this of obsessively focusing on completing a task at the expense of everything else in your life are a hallmark of neurodivergent people.

    1. My PNR is GR8VAG Guest

      Tom Stuker has a wife (and maybe kids), he's also run his own TV show, and there is a legitimate business purpose behind his travels - even though I find his business fundamentally revolting. He trains people on selling used cars.

    2. D3kingg Guest

      @GR8VAG

      Have you met his wife and children before ? Have you seen his business license ? How would you know ? Can you confirm this ?

      Regardless Tom Brady Stuker is the world’s most frequent flyer.

  15. George Romey Guest

    Essentially this guy spends his life in a metal tube or waiting to board a metal tube. While I love traveling/flying I go with the too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Even when traveling in a lie flat business seat (which I was doing 10 minutes ago) the only thing I want to do when that chime goes off is get off that plane.

    1. My PNR is GR8VAG Guest

      Essentially this guy spends his life in a metal tube or waiting to board a metal tube.

      When you reduce life this way, every human being on the planet is a speck of carbon atoms eating 3x daily and shitting 1x daily ... every day.

      Even when traveling in a lie flat business seat (which I was doing 10 minutes ago) the only thing I want to do when that chime goes off is get...

      Essentially this guy spends his life in a metal tube or waiting to board a metal tube.

      When you reduce life this way, every human being on the planet is a speck of carbon atoms eating 3x daily and shitting 1x daily ... every day.

      Even when traveling in a lie flat business seat (which I was doing 10 minutes ago) the only thing I want to do when that chime goes off is get off that plane.

      One thing that is often overlooked about business class travel is that it's still mass market public transportation and it's uncomfortable. A three inch twin sized memory foam mattress topper on a hardwood floor in a pre-war apartment is more comfortable than any business class seat.

    2. Mick Guest

      Yep. It’s a weird hobby (that I still love). The residence on etihad is still the equivalent of a very cheap hotel room on the ground.

      If you opened the door on a $250 hotel room and saw a q suite (with shared toilets) you wouldn’t be overly impressed.

    1. My PNR is GR8VAG Guest

      Sad for our environment, yes.

  16. ZTravel Gold

    I can’t imagine doing all that travel or even 10% of it on one airline! Definitely gets boring… I’m starting a work/personal trip for couple of weeks but I’ll be flying 5+ airlines throughout across SkyTeam, Star Alliance and One World! (This wouldn’t have been possible couple of years ago until loyalty programs broke)! And I get to sample different airlines, lounges and cities.

  17. axck Guest

    I’m really surprised that United treats this guy so well considering that American went after their lifetime pass holders. These lifetime passes cost the airlines a lot of revenue.

    1. Mlloyd996 New Member

      Yep, remember reading about how AA started voiding them. UAL definitely loses a bunch of money on this deal. PR might be great, but even if he spent $510k, he's easily cost them 10x that amount over the years.

    2. Mark Christopher Guest

      Depends what United did with upfront 510k payment. What was it used for? Perhaps it went into investment funds for employee retirement contributions and they were making money on it.

  18. Alonzo Diamond

    We need a reunion of all the folks who bought lifetime passes in 1990. There's gotta be quite a few of them.

    Wonder if Stuker is able to book all of his flights online or if he has some special instructions....

    1. Mark Guest

      Those reunions happen on AA on most new route launches. Those inaugural flights are typically closed to the highest business class inventory, so in a way those seats are reserved for the old airpass holders. There’s usually a handful of them on every longhaul inaugural.

  19. pstm91 Diamond

    I'm all for "to each their own" and "whatever makes you happy," but I will never understand this. I love flying, but the majority of a flight is quite boring as you're just in a seat, in a metal tube, trying to pass the time. 4+ years of cumulative time on United airplanes just sounds like so much boring/wasted time to me, even if it is his happy place.

    1. justindev Guest

      Thank you. I thought it was only me.

    2. Ann Guest

      4 years is an underestimate.

      He has about 10x more miles flown than I do, and my log shows 36 weeks (almost 6000 hours). That would give him at least 360 continuous weeks or 7+ years of living inside a United plane.

      Add to it airport time, connection time, etc.

      Has he ever flown a different airline?

    3. TranceXplant Member

      It's a lot more than 4 years. At 500mph, that's 5.5 years in airplanes. That's spread across more than 12k flights, according to the WP. If you only add an hour of airport time per flight, the total flight/airport time surpasses 7 years.

  20. Tim Dunns Mom Guest

    Every time I read about this guy I just think “wow this guy just hates his wife and family so much” impressive stuff

    1. Mason Guest

      It's funny to see those liberals whose wives get stolen without even noticing, are worried about others' wives. Seems like you hate your wife more than this guy, doesn't it?

    2. justindev Guest

      Why is it always one of you conservatives to make things political? I know this is asking much, but please do better.

  21. JetAway Guest

    United has become his "home" and the employees are his "family." He really doesn't "cost" UA much of anything and he is one of their greatest publicists. A bargain for both.

  22. Randy Diamond

    I met him once at the Chicago Seminars. some years back. Truly a nice man. I did try to probe on purpose of travel. Although, I thought it was strange that someone traveling and spending Millions $ on flights would be attending a Flyertalk event. Now we know about the pass.

  23. U k Guest

    No, I wouldn't. You can always make more money, but you can never make more time. Time away from people you love is time you'll never get back.

    1. JustinDev Member

      Well clearly he doesn't like his family and made another one with United and its staff. Who really don't think of him as family as it's a transactional relationship.

      Humans are weird.

    2. JWags Guest

      I wouldn't say they think of him as "family", but to pretend he doesn't have genuine friendships and mutual affection with employees cause he's a customer and its "transactional" is nonsense.

      I for one have customers/suppliers who have become close friends. I attended a wedding in India for a former customer who I hadn't had a professional relationship with for 2-3 years at the time and it was a smaller event, so its not like...

      I wouldn't say they think of him as "family", but to pretend he doesn't have genuine friendships and mutual affection with employees cause he's a customer and its "transactional" is nonsense.

      I for one have customers/suppliers who have become close friends. I attended a wedding in India for a former customer who I hadn't had a professional relationship with for 2-3 years at the time and it was a smaller event, so its not like it was filled with professional relationships for business purposes.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Tim Dunns Mom Guest

Every time I read about this guy I just think “wow this guy just hates his wife and family so much” impressive stuff

3
Anna Guest

Every country? First, he doesn't travel, he flies around. Second, United doesn't really go that many places....

2
lavanderialarry Guest

How sad.

2
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