Business Treaveler logo

Travel news, reviews and intel for high-flyers

American Airlines Scraps its AirPass Program

The scheme, which allowed members to lock in ticket prices, has been axed after more than four decades

by Lauren Smith

December 7, 2022

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, American Airlines Admirals Club / Photo: American Airlines Newsroom

After 41 years, American Airlines (AA) has decided to cancel its AirPass program, which allowed travelers and small businesses to pre-book tickets on flights at fixed rates.

AirPass was launched in the late 1970s in the wake of airline deregulation and initially offered passes for unlimited travel, for either five years or the traveler’s lifetime, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The unlimited passes were pulled from the market in 1994, taking the airline to redesign the program to offer its customers the ability to lock in ticket prices instead. While less generous than the all-inclusive passes, the recent iteration of the AirPass helped frequent flyers control their travel spending and make last-minute bookings and changes without incurring charges.

The Flagship Suite on the American Airlines Boeing 787-9 / Photo: Courtesy of American Airlines

Membership costs for AirPass were steep: users often had to deposit at least $10,000 into the program. But the perks matched and were earned without one even stepping on a plane. 

In addition to the pre-booking system, members received instant upgrades, preferred and Main Cabin Extra seating, and access to American’s Admirals Club lounges.

If a passenger deposited $50,000 or more into the program, they gained access to American Airlines’ invite-only Concierge Key program, with the airline’s agents proactively monitoring its members’ travels and booking them on alternative flights if they miss a connection or encounter a delay.

American Airlines even added new perks to the AirPass last year, including a complimentary annual Wi-Fi subscription and the ability to book AirPass flights with select partner carriers, including Japan Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, and Iberia.

But on November 30, American Airlines announced on its website that it was ditching AirPass for good. “Thank you for 41 amazing years,” the airline noted. “As of November 30, we are no longer accepting new memberships. Thank you for your loyalty and business, and we look forward to seeing you onboard soon.”

Steve Giordano, a partner at Nomadic Aviation Group, laments the airline’s decision to drop its AirPass program. “Very disappointing news,” Giordano tweeted. 

Nomadic, which specializes in aircraft ferry operations globally, is one of the many clients of the AirPass program that will be affected by its termination. According to Giordano, his company’s yearly AirPass expenses exceed $100,000, granting him the airline’s top status, Concierge Key, and the ability to book last-minute flights for his global aircraft ferry missions.

“Will this affect my loyalty [to AA]? Probably not,” Giordano tweeted. “Not as long as I remain a Concierge Key, but it will significantly lower our company’s spend on AA. AirPass was great.”

A spokesperson for the airline clarified that existing members wouldn’t be able to renew their contracts or deposit additional funds. However, all customers currently within an agreement will be able to use their remaining funds or request a refund before the end of their contract period. Those refunds will be processed within three weeks of the request.

American Airlines also said it would continue to honor its commitment to the handful of lifetime AirPass members.

The airline has not revealed why it’s ditching the program, but the change comes amid turbulence in the industry. As demand has rebounded following the pandemic, carriers have struggled to keep up. Demand for premium services has been robust, with passengers reporting overcrowding at airport lounges.

High demand and overcrowding recently prompted rival Delta to limit the number of passengers who can buy annual memberships to its Sky Club lounges. In addition, only those with elite Medallion status can purchase memberships from early next year, while the price is also increasing.