Celebrating Tom Stuker’s 10 Million Flown Miles on United

Lots of stories the last several days like this one leading up to a true milestone for frequent flyers, Tom Stuker’s flight yesterday from Los Angeles to Chicago where he flew his 10 millionth mile on United.

The comparisons to George Clooney in Up in the Air are everywhere, but Clooney was earning his miles from all sources (and in the book, which I read on a transcon flight in 2001 and which bore no relationship whatsoever to the movie, he was only after 1 million miles). I’ve earned that many myself. But Stuker’s 10 million are actual flight miles, logged with a single airline over the past 30 years. His first 5 million miles took 20 years, his second 5 million took only 10 years (so he was averaging 500,000 flight miles a year — take that United 1Ks and American Executive Platinums!).

For me, that’s a daunting amount of travel. Especially on United. While I realize many of those first class flights to Australia were likely upgrades, not all of them were, and flying international first means paying at least for business. If I were buying paid premium cabin international fares to the Asia Pacific region, I certainly wouldn’t be flying United, I’d consider Qantas and Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. Stuker was incredibly gracious, thanking all of the United employees who make his travels so great and who are so wonderful at customer service, but even as a Global Services member it’s hard to imagine he’s better off than if he were a Singapore PPS Solitaire member.

Here’s a video of the ceremony, I watched the whole 20 minutes and though it was really special.

United presented Stuker with a Titanium Mileage Plus card, a framed commemorative on an original stock certificate, a book listing all of his flights with United, a model of a 787 in United livery (United’s CEO joked about the plane’s delivery delays) and… they named a 747 after him, which was parked right outside the window where the ceremony was being held.

It was also near to see many familiar friends and faces in the audience, Captain Denny, Art, Marty, Randy Petersen..

Congratulations, Tom, it’s thrilling to see the well-deserved recognition for your milestone. And I’m looking forward to your upcoming SpikeTV reality show, “Car Boss”…!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I just tripped 1 MM miles on Continental (took 24 years) and I thought that was cool. Now it seems pretty pedestrian. I do, however, agree with your assessment re: SQ and CX and QF.

  2. A titanium GLOBAL SERVICES card no less, must be nice knowing you’re going to be GS for life.

  3. One of the commenters from Ben’s blog mentioned he has lifetime first class passes that he purchased from United several years ago. If true, that may color his thinking. Plus, he is a Chicago native and I get the impression he just likes the airline and the personalized service he receives due to his loyalty. Given the frequency of his travel, I suppose it makes sense for him to stick with one carrier.

  4. @Carl there’s been lots of misreporting on this story. I believe he completed a promo in the 80s to fly to all 50 states when United even flew to Deleware just to be able to say that they did, and he received something like a year’s first class travel (details of which I’m fuzzy on but I haven’t looked up). I don’t believe he has “lifetime first class passes.” And references to him “always being upgraded” are really just his being a Global Services member. If I were him I’d probably do 200k miles per year United, certainly all my domestic and Hawaii, and 300k international on Singapore et al. Still be a Global Services member. And while United treats him well, that onboard product just doesn’t measure up and that’s A LOT of hours in the sky…

  5. We wrote a book which is about 20 years of combined travel and never a million miles due to fragmentation in Europe. However it aint any fun any more – Flying sucks…Delayed flights, lost luggage and stuff just aint like it used to be…Even my A380 flight from Johannesberg to Paris had the crew “re=booting” my seat to get the IFE working. Get the book here – http://t.co/0gYPEsl

  6. I enjoyed the video and Mr. Stuker seems like a humble man, what fun for him today!

  7. 500,000 mi/year means you’re in the air for over a month out of each year. Accruing 10,000,000 mi means you’ve spent over 2 years of your life on an airplane– and since that assumes 500 mi/hr, it’s probably a significant underestimate.

    All I’ll say is that I’m not jealous.

  8. Why anyone would want to fly a million miles, much less 10 million is beyond me (unless business requires it). It is such a tedious and unpleasant experience, even in first class.

    There have got to be better ways to live one’s life.

  9. I think that’s great and really enjoyed watching him enjoy and celebration, and yes can understand the Chicago base etc, but I have to say I’ve flow United internationally twice and have sworn never to do so again, the US carriers, CO included are not any where near comparable to the Asian carriers, Cathay, Thai, MAS, Qantas, et al and the Euro carriers, United and CO are like the local bus versus the first class Grey Hound forty years ago. I can understand for a quick domestic but any longer hauls they can’t be taken seriously. I’ll fly half way around the world to be on a real airline versus a direct CO or UA flight. It’s just the way it is.

  10. It’s unfair to compare government-supported foreign carriers with US free market carriers. Most of the foreign carriers are paying much less than American airlines, and many have “five years and out” for the FA’s. I fly ORD/SYD often (not as much as Tom) and while many of the older FA’s are surly and unsuitable for continued employment, union rules make it impossible to get rid of them. “High end” meals on an airline have always seemed pretty absurd to me, and I rarely eat even in C-class. It’s transportation, not a restaurant.

    My biggest reason for staying with UA? Patriotism. If we gut all our mainline carriers and are left with Jet Blue and Southwest, we’ll all be SOL.

  11. I think it’s obvious the he loves flying UA because of the personal connection he has with the employees there. He walks into ORD and has a personal relationship with every GS desk agent there. He knows the call center folks by name. Every international flight attendant recognizes him and loves him. I’m not saying he couldn’t develop some of these relationships on a foreign carrier, but I think it’s easier living in Chicago and having UA’s largest (until the CO merger) hub there.

    And you guys make the idea of flying UA First sound like an unpleasant thing, which is just ridiculous. No, it’s not on the same level of Singapore et al, but it’s still a pretty pleasant way to fly (especially when all the flight attendants are your second family).

  12. That was a fun party. I’m even in the video briefly.

    23 meals in a row on UA flights? Yuck.

  13. I’d never wish that much air time on anyone, what a miserable life. I spent only around one year on the road 2 weeks of every month. I was single and I still hated it. Sure, the upgrades were nice, but when it came down to it I needed more home time. Add a family and it only gets worse. Once his 747 is retired he’ll end up being some kind of Jeopardy question.

    I genuinly feel badly for him.

  14. Great publicity for the airline!
    I too salute this wonderful customer and his appreciation for United.Well done!
    I personally don’t salute how United Airlines has gutted its quality in premium cabins and limited its own award availability and of course the criminal and unacceptable Starnet Blocking.Perhaps Tom has away around these problems with some inside contacts………..
    I will forever be a One World/AA customer and be a reasonable spender as I believe the value and the program are superior in most regards.I do miss the glory days of United where it was once the only airline I would fly as a 1k.However it was a day when a premium cabin was worth paying for offering a first class experience including Godivas and food that was as good as it got in the air.Mileage Plus award availability was reasonably plentiful for its customers and kindness was the norm.They are very lucky
    to have Tom as a customer.Perhaps I may reconisder my stance when the 787 appears on the scene down the road.Hopefully United won’t be serving the frozen dry overcooked TV dinners in the air as I last experienced in the air in First on my last UA flight taken this year……
    I see no reason to pay or use my miles for such inferior product but to each his own!
    Lets hope there are many more Toms for Uniteds future.
    Cheers

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