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Executive Travel : More Mileage for Your Money : Flying: Airlines diversify accrual methods as they raise award requirements.

From Reuters

U.S. airlines will try to win new passengers in 1995 with programs that allow businesses to use miles as incentives and marketing tools. At the same times, they are giving all travelers more ways to amass frequent-flier miles by shopping, eating out or talking on the telephone.

The expanded programs to earn miles come even as major carriers are raising the number of miles required for free trips, industry officials said.

AMR, parent of American Airlines, recently launched a program that awards miles to consumers who patronize certain restaurants. Several carriers, including Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines, are considering programs similar to those introduced by AMR and UAL, the parent of United Airlines. Under these programs, carriers sell miles to companies that give them out as incentives to workers or customers.

“We are evaluating a variety of options,” said Joyce Mascia, manager of Delta’s frequent-flier program, which has more than 17 million members.

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Delta expanded its program in 1994 by adding four hotel partners and enabling passengers to earn miles by buying flowers, luggage and newspapers.

Industry officials say frequent-flier programs build brand loyalty even if passengers belong to more than one plan.

“The programs are still a very big point of airline differentiation. Consumers place a very high value on free miles,” Mascia said.

This year, American, Continental, United and USAir will raise their requirements for a free trip within the contiguous 48 states to 25,000 miles from 20,000.

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Northwest will raise its requirements on a seasonal basis, but Delta is cutting its levels to 25,000 miles from 30,000.

Carriers are also raising their criteria for free trips to Hawaii and Europe, and some are tinkering with regulations for the expiration of miles after several years.

“There have not been any mileage level changes for five or six years. We think that’s a very reasonable period,” American spokesman Tim Smith said. The airline’s AAdvantage program has 23 million members.

Airlines have been swamped with calls from travelers concerned about the status of their frequent-flier accounts. But the carriers say passengers are unlikely to get cheated out of free trips because the new ways to earn miles will probably outnumber the miles lost due to program changes.

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“The consumer still loves the thrill of earning a free ticket,” said Tom Parsons of Best Fares discount travel magazine.


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