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Originally published Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 7:01 PM

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United’s most frequent flier racks up a million miles in 2012

An auto-dealership consultant who travels worldwide is one of aviation’s highest-mileage passengers.

The New York Times

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Like many frequent fliers, Tom Stuker is reflecting on his past year of accumulating miles in the air. Unlike many of us, he reflects on the fact that he had flown more than a million miles in 2012, all on United Airlines.

And for those who are slapping their heads in skeptical astonishment, that is a million miles of actual flying, not a million piled up in frequent-flier mileage programs.

Stuker, of Nutley, N.J., racked up most of those miles on the job as an independent consultant and sales trainer for automobile dealerships around the world.

Hitting a million miles in a little less than a year requires flying about 20,000 miles each week. No problem, Stuker said.

United announced Stuker’s amazing record, noting that he had reached the million milestone on a Dec. 6 flight from London to Chicago. United called Stuker, who has flown more than 13 million miles on more than 6,000 of its flights, its “top flier” and added that he is “one of commercial aviation’s highest-mileage travelers.”

Therein lies a bit of a rub. Like most champion record-setters in any field, Stuker keeps an eye on a mighty rival. That would be Fred Finn, a British expatriate businessman in his early 70s who has been acclaimed in the British media for a lifetime record of flying more than 15 million miles on various airlines.

“I heard of this guy, what’s his name, this Fred Finn or something, and supposedly he flew over 15 million miles,” said Stuker in a phone interview. “But it wasn’t with one airline. And I don’t know how well documented that is.”

Stuker warns that Finn should keep looking over his shoulder. “I’m only 59 years old and, God willing, I’m going to be passing him in a couple of years. He knows who I am.”

A key to Stuker’s record, incidentally, is that his job takes him to automobile dealerships around the world — more than 1,500 so far. Australia is a frequent destination, as are places throughout Europe and Asia.

He tries to fly at night to combine sleep and travel. “I do an awful lot of red-eyes,” he said. “More of my nights are in a plane than in a bed, maybe even counting hotels.”

He and his wife, Darlene, who is a teacher, also travel about 200,000 miles a year together on leisure trips around the globe in the summer and on long weekends. “Martin Luther King weekend, we’re going to Buenos Aires for two days. Then on Presidents Day we’ll fly over to Hawaii for two days,” he said.

As a member of United’s exclusive, invitation-only Global Services program for its highest-revenue customers, he receives special customer-service treatment, including personal service at airports. In general, however, “I have the same routine problems as everybody else, but on a larger scale because of the sheer amount of travel,” he said.

How about the wear and tear that amount of travel takes on any person? Being able to travel so frequently with his wife takes a lot of the edge off, he said. Transferring some of his voluminous frequent-flier-award perks to friends is another treat.

And he enjoys his job. Starting in February, he will be featured in an eight-part reality TV series on Spike TV called “Car Lot Rescue,” which is about his job, not his travel per se. On each show, he visits and rescues a troubled car dealership.

“It’s TV, so it’s all ramped up. Within each 42 minutes, you see me go in there, beat the heck out of everybody, shake up the place, uncover problems, get everybody to hate me, fix the problems, get everybody to love me — and at the end, I save the world and we all sing Kumbaya.”

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