American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, has formed a partnership to access up to 549 million potential passengers in China.
The Fort Worth-based carrier has teamed up with Fliggy, the travel platform for Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. The arrangement lets Alibaba users book American Airlines flights and allows Fliggy’s loyalty reward members to get elite status benefits on the carrier’s AAdvantage program.
The airline’s benefits for elite Fliggy travelers include such extras as preferred boarding and seats with extra legroom.
The partnership comes at a time when travel from China has been rising, up 466% from 2009 to 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. In 2009, only 525,000 visitors traveled from China to the U.S., according to the federal agency. By 2016, that number rose to nearly 3 million visitors.
But the surge tapered off in 2017, down nearly 6% in the first six months of the year compared with the same period in 2016. Travel industry experts attribute the decline in international travel in part to the strong U.S. dollar and heightened security measures on U.S. carriers.