Frequent Flier VIP: Meet the Guy Who Never Waits at the Airport


Consider it high-roller service without the Las Vegas casino.

"It is total, total VIP," Stuker said.

The' Up in the Air' Movie Treatment

Stuker flies so much that this summer he had 23 consecutive meals on planes.

"Toward the last day or two, I asked to switch my first class meal to a coach meal to try something different," he said.

Once, when flying out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, he was escorted by Global Services through the terminal with then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, just before Obama announced his intentions to seek the presidency.

"It's nice to know that United literally treats me like the president of the United States when I fly," said Stuker, 55.

When you live up in the air, these perks make a big difference. When Stuker calls the airline's reservation line, the staff greets him by name even when he calls from odd phones from around the world -- he says many of the telephone agents recognize his voice.

He's also flown enough on American Airlines to earn lifetime gold, million-miler status, but when given the choice, he picks United.

At the United Los Angeles first class lounge, "I am treated like a king," Stuker said. He walks in the door and his favorite drink -- a Bacardi and Diet Coke -- is waiting. When he leaves, the staff hands him a personally packed doggie bag of his favorite snack for the next flight: chips and guacamole.

During his frequent trips to Australia, Stuker pays for a first-class seat.

"If I was in coach, I would shoot myself," he said. "When you're sitting in a very comfortable seat, in this case a bed with two fluffy pillows, Champagne and an array of movies to choose from, I'm not looking for a whole lot of sympathy."

The Best Frequent Flier Perks

Airlines typically reward fliers for the number of miles or flight segments they fly. The more often you fly, the better the perks: upgrades, dedicated check-in lines and quiet lounges to escape the chaos of the terminal.

But there is a payoff for those perks: Business travelers who buy tickets hours before the flight might pay $1,400 for that same seat that costs another passenger hundreds of dollars less. Executives who buy last-minute, fully-refundable first-class tickets might pay $4,000 or more.

It costs the airline the same amount of money to get each person from point A to point B, but clearly some passengers are more profitable than others. (That's why airlines offer leisure travelers a $200 or $300 voucher to voluntarily be bumped to a later flight -- they often want to fill the seat with a high-yield customer paying three times that.)

The major airlines refused to give out details of these secret rewards programs, fearing that the competition will try to use such information to steal customers. But's Petersen, who was once a Global Services member himself, said members of these clubs often spend $50,000 to $100,000 a year with the airline.

The airlines can also offer membership to influential people such as the heads of large corporate travel departments, celebrities or politicians.

Petersen said it's like Studio 54, "They pick you, you don't pick them."

'Up in the Air" director Jason Reitman, for example, was given his own membership card by American.

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