Embarking on a journey of 23 million miles, one man turned the skies into his second home. At 69, he's not just an ordinary traveler but a master of the art. Here's everything he's experienced throughout the years.
Meet Tom Stuker
Now there's a guy who knows how to travel. Meet Tom Stuker, a 69-year-old gentleman from New Jersey. Forget about fancy resorts and first-class seats, this man's flying game is on a whole different level.
He currently holds the world record for being the most frequent flyer, with an astonishing 23 million miles notched on his belt. But how in the world could he possibly afford to travel this much? It seems there's more to this man's story than meets the eye...
A Busy Man
First, let's start by mentioning what he does for a living. Not only is Stuker a big deal in world of travel, but he's also pretty huge in the car sales industry. He co-founded the Automotive Training Network. And it's not just some small-time operation either.
We're talking about a successful international consultancy with locations all over the place - the United States, Europe, Asia, and even down under in Australia. It's safe to say Tom's got his fingers in a lot of pies! But what was the secret to his endless globetrotting?
A Smart Investment
This family man with two kids got bitten by the travel bug in a big way. The story of his frequent flying goes back to 1990 when he shelled out a cool $290,000 for a lifetime pass with United. Sounds crazy, right? But here's the catch - this golden ticket gave him unlimited first-class travel on any of United's flights around the globe.
And guess what? Tom's been living the jet-set life ever since, always parked in his favorite spot - seat 1B. It's like his own personal throne in the sky! Now, you can't get that pass anymore. It's a relic of a bygone era. But to Tom, it was the 'best investment of his life.' Can you blame him?
Sharing His Experiences
But if you think he's flown 23 million miles around the world without learning a thing or two about traveling via airplanes, think again. And Tom Stuker isn't just about living the high life, he's all about sharing the wealth too. He's spilling the beans on a few insider secrets to help us regular folks fly smarter.
With all his experience throughout the years, this jet-setting guru is pulling back the curtain and letting us in on some juicy insider secrets. You know, the kind of stuff that can turn your average flight into a first-class experience, like how to give yourself a leg up when it comes to scoring an upgrade. Ready for takeoff?
Speaking to The Washington Post, Stuker shared a few of the tricks he has up his sleeve. He mentioned that he makes it a point to act familiar with the first flight attendant he encounters onboard. You see, this person is usually the head attendant - the MVP of the cabin crew, if you will.
Whenever he boards a plane, no matter the airline or destination, he greets the first flight attendant he sees like an old friend. "I remember you! You gave us such great service last time. I wanted to thank you again," he'd exclaim, even if their paths had never crossed before.
Choosing Your Seat
Another simple yet effective strategy from a man who's made flying his second nature is for those who couldn't book their preferred seat on a plane. He suggests monitoring the seat map app while boarding. If a previously booked seat becomes vacant and it's more appealing than your current spot, Stuker advises to go for it.
According to Stuker, the cabin crew 'won't mind' if you seize the opportunity. He says it could really enhance the in-flight experience for many. A simple, yet potentially game-changing strategy for those looking to improve their in-flight experience.
One of his pet peeves? People using their cell phones on speaker mode. It's an annoyance that Tom Stuker, a frequent flyer with over 23 million miles to his name, knows all too well. His response to such in-flight indiscretions is both humorous and pointed...
"Hey, next time you're going to invite all of us to your business meeting, bring doughnuts," he'd retort. These loud conversations can sometimes be annoying on planes, buses, and in other confined spaces. But Stuker's tactic a lighthearted way to address a common problem in the skies, reminding us all of the importance of plane etiquette.
Ever found yourself waiting impatiently at the carousel for your checked-in luggage? Another one of Stuker's golden rules: avoid checking in bags. He strongly believes in traveling light with only cabin baggage to save precious time.
And what about the need for fresh clothes or forgotten items? Stuker points out that 'every town has laundromats... and stores.' In his view, one can easily wash and reuse clothes or purchase any missed essentials. It's an important reminder that sometimes less is more.
While Tom Stuker isn't an avid social media enthusiast, he does occasionally share snippets of his life in the skies on Instagram, under the handle @ua1flyer. In one such candid post, he opens up about a topic that often garners mixed reviews - airplane food.
His caption accompanying a photo of his in-flight meal reads: "As you can imagine, I eat a lot of my meals on airplanes. I'm often asked which my favorite is, and hands down it's the lobster mac-n-cheese!" It's a tasty revelation from the man who's probably had more in-flight meals than most of us will in our lifetime.
Tom Stuker's Instagram handle, @ua1flyer, is a treasure trove of travel insights. In one post, he pulls back the curtain on the exclusive United Polaris Lounges, a haven for premium cabin travelers. These lounges, he reveals, offer a tantalizing array of cocktails.
Now, you might wonder what a man, who has seen and tasted it all, would pick as his favorite. Well, Stuker doesn't disappoint. His top choices? The whimsically named Paper Airplane, the refreshing Lavender Lift, and the classic Mai Tai. We're taking notes!
Some Unpleasant Experiences
However, not all of Tom Stuker's in-flight experiences have been pleasant. With an air of somberness, he reveals that he has witnessed the harsh realities of life, even at 35,000 feet above the ground - including four tragic deaths due to heart attacks.
"I'd met a couple of them, too," he recalls, his words underscoring the unpredictability of life. One such incident occurred on a flight from Chicago to Narita, Tokyo. "Just died right in their seats. The last guy was up in business with me," he shares.
'What Else Could They Do?'
In a sobering revelation, Stuker shares the grim realities of dealing with death mid-flight. "They covered him with a blanket and put the seat belt back on. What else could they do?" he recalls. His words paint a vivid, albeit unsettling picture of the practicalities airlines must grapple with in such situations.
But his recollection is punctuated with a hint of dark humor. He muses, "I guarantee somebody in business was thinking, 'Hey, if he's not gonna eat his chocolate sundae, would you mind…?'" His comment, while light-hearted, underscores the strange reality of being stuck in a plane, where life's joys and sorrows play out in close quarters.
A Passion for Travel
Beyond the skies, Tom Stuker has built an impressive legacy on the ground. As the co-founder of Automotive Training Network, he's been instrumental in steering this international car sales consultancy to success across the globe, with a presence spanning from the US to Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Yet, the allure of jet-setting never waned for Stuker. Now, as he steps into semi-retirement, the horizon beckons even more enticingly. The extra time has only fueled his passion for travel, allowing him to indulge in his love for exploring new destinations.
Committed to Traveling
After shaping the automotive industry through his consultancy, his quest for new horizons led him to a different kind of journey - one that would take place thousands of feet above the ground. His love for travel, initially sparked by the necessity of international business trips, quickly turned into a compelling passion.
He was no longer bound by work commitments and could now fully immerse himself in his globetrotting pursuits. It was during this period that he began to rack up impressive mileage, traversing continents and oceans with an insatiable thirst for adventure.
Throughout his travels, Stuker has hit remarkable milestones. In 2011, he reached an astonishing 10 million miles, a feat so extraordinary that United Airlines celebrated by naming a 747 after him - a testament to his enduring relationship with the skies.
Fast forward to 2019, and Stuker's journey took another leap forward. Amidst mid-air cheers and champagne toasts, he carved out yet another record, becoming the first passenger ever to clock a staggering 20 million miles with United. His achievement was met with fanfare upon his arrival in Los Angeles.
Stuker looks back at 2019 as his banner year. He hopped on an amazing 373 flights, jetting around the globe for a total of 1.46 million miles. In a fun twist, he shares that if he had paid out of pocket for all these trips, it would've set him back a cool $2.44 million!
For years, he's been part of United's exclusive Global Services club. This is a secret society of sorts, where invitations are only sent out to those who've clocked over four million miles in the air. With his mind-boggling travel record, Stuker isn't just a member of this club, he's practically their poster boy.
His travel stories aren't just about the miles, but the unforgettable experiences each journey brings. Traveling in style, Stuker enjoys perks that would make any globetrotter green with envy. He has his own dedicated check-in station, complete with a back door that leads him straight to the front of the security queue.
The VIP airport lounges are his personal oasis, offering complimentary gourmet dining, soothing spa treatments, and even cozy sleeping quarters. Interestingly, despite these luxuries, Stuker prefers to keep things down-to-earth. Sure, he could have someone carry his bags for him, but he politely declines.
Stuker also has a direct line to the airline for any hiccups during his travels, although they keep a close eye on his journeys anyway. In some instances, he's given the star treatment with a luxury car chauffeuring him right on the runway, ensuring he never misses a flight.
It's this blend of high-flying luxury and practical efficiency that makes Stuker's travel experiences stand out. With his special hotline and runway pickups, he navigates the world of air travel with ease, all while enjoying the perks of his VIP status.
Not Just Any Card
In his wallet, Stuker carries his all-black, titanium frequent-flyer card. This isn't just any card—it's a unique symbol of his extraordinary journey across the skies. It reflects countless miles traveled and countless memories made. However, this exclusive piece of black titanium rarely sees the light of day.
Why, you ask? Well, in the world of constant travel and endless airport lounges, everyone tends to know who Stuker is. His reputation as a globetrotter precedes him. As he strolls through terminals or boards yet another flight, recognition sparks in the eyes of airline staff.
Ignoring the Haters
Like we mentioned, Stuker doesn't post too much about his experiences on social media, but when he does, his followers are quick to comment on his posts. While most of the users in the comments sections are happy to be part of his adventures, he also receives negative comments on occasion.
He's faced his fair share of criticism, even attracting the ire of some airline 'trolls,' as he chooses to refer to them. But Stuker's story is not just about the miles he's covered—it's also about navigating the challenges that come with a life lived largely on the move.
Balancing Family and Travel
His tale is as much about managing relationships and handling criticism as it is about jet-setting around the globe. It only goes to show how complicated it can be to balance a love for travel with the responsibilities of family and the scrutiny of the public eye.
Shrugging off the naysayers, Stuker once quipped, they're simply "jealous." Despite his globetrotting lifestyle, he maintains a strong bond with his wife. "I'd put my relationship with my wife against any couple in the world," he confidently stated.
A Shared Love for Travel
Stuker's extraordinary lifestyle finds a harmonious balance thanks to his wife, Darlene, a schoolteacher with an equally passionate love for flying. Their shared enthusiasm for travel has allowed them to embark on countless adventures together, their love story unfolding thousands of feet above ground.
Over the years, they've together amassed millions of miles, their shared journeys spanning continents and cultures. Their love for each other and for travel is epitomized in one particular memory: a spontaneous trip to London just to celebrate their wedding anniversary over a weekend.
"It's About the People I Meet"
His story isn't just about the physical distance covered or the number of flights taken. It's about the rich tapestry of experiences and relationships woven from countless encounters across different cultures and time zones. "At the end of the day, it's not about the places I go, it's about the people I meet."
He spoke these words during a flight where he was celebrating hitting the 20-million-mile mark. That's what travel means to him. It's not just about racking up miles or checking off destinations. It's about the people he meets along the way, the connections he makes.
So Many Gift Cards
Stuker was quick to realize the potential of frequent-flier miles beyond just securing more flights. He found a unique way to use them, trading and selling miles to others. He shared an interesting anecdote with the Post that really highlights his innovative use of miles.
He once used his accumulated miles to get so many gift cards that he was able to remodel his brother's home! Unfortunately, United doesn't offer such options to its fliers anymore, according to the Post. But by thinking outside the box, he turned something as ordinary as flight miles into a tool for extraordinary deeds.
Not only that, but Tom Stuker's adventures with his frequent-flier miles have even taken him all the way to the television screen. Years ago, he won an auction by bidding a whopping 451,000 miles to guest star on an episode of NBC's hit show Seinfeld.
But that's just one of the many interesting tales from his travel chronicles. In a conversation with the Post, Stuker revealed that his travels have taken him to a staggering 100 countries. Moreover, he has enjoyed over 120 "honeymoons" with his wife. Marriage goals, if you ask us!
Taking It to the Big Screen
But if you think the globe is the only thing Tom Stuker has explored, you think wrong. He's also ventured into the world of television too, starring in his own show, Car Lot Rescue, on Spike TV. Plus, like we said, he even made a cameo on the popular sitcom, Seinfeld, courtesy of Larry David.
And if that wasn't enough, his unique lifestyle inspired a movie! The Air Up There, a film about a corporate downsizing expert, starring none other than George Clooney, was based on Tom's life. Imagine having this Hollywood icon portray you in a movie about your best achievements in life!
Tom's journey just goes to show, whether it's crossing continents or inspiring Hollywood, when you follow your passion, there's no telling where you might end up. For example, another anecdote Stuker once shared with the Post was spending 12 straight days in the air, with no bed in sight.
His journey began in Newark, and the anticipation was palpable as he boarded his first flight, heading westward to San Francisco. A city known for its iconic Golden Gate Bridge and a bustling tech industry, but this time, it was just a pit stop on his extraordinary journey.
From San Francisco, Stuker embarked on a long-haul flight to Bangkok, Thailand's vibrant capital. He swapped the cool Californian breeze for the humid, bustling streets of Bangkok. But again, there was no time for sightseeing.
From San Francisco, Stuker embarked on a long-haul flight to Bangkok. He swapped the cool Californian breeze for the humid, bustling streets of Bangkok. But again, there was no time for sightseeing. Despite the allure of its rich culture and tantalizing street food, Bangkok was merely another stepping stone on his marathon journey.
No Time for Hotels
His next destination was Dubai, the glittering jewel of the United Arab Emirates. Known for its futuristic skyscrapers and extravagant lifestyle, Dubai is a destination many travelers dream of visiting. For Stuker, though, it was just another airport lounge to visit.
Throughout this epic journey, Stuker didn't once step foot in a hotel room. His only respite from flying was the brief periods he spent in airport lounges. Every moment spent on the ground was a moment spent preparing for the next leg of his journey. Talk about exhausting!
An Incredible Journey
So, Stuker's journey all started when United Airlines launched an offer that would change his life forever. Since then, the accumulation of airline miles has become a sort of game for him. At 69 years old, Stuker is driven by more than just a love for travel. He has become something of a fixture in his favored seat, 1B.
It's there that Stuker spends much of his time, soaring through the skies and exploring destinations far and wide. And looking back at his decision to purchase the lifetime pass, he told the Post without a hint of regret, "Best investment of my life."