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American Airlines Eases Restrictions on Frequent Flyer Program

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American Airlines logoAmerican Airlines surprised many today when it announced several customer-friendly changes to its frequent-flier program.The new “One-Way Flex Awards” will allow customers to book one-way tickets for half the amount of miles needed for a round-trip ticket, and will also let passengers book multi-city itineraries and combine award seats with non-award seats.Under the old paradigm, passengers could only book round-trips to and from the same city and were forced to fly in an award seat of equal value for both legs of the journey.This often made booking award travel an exercise in futility—for example, an award seat might be available only on an outbound journey, but not the return trip.But now passengers will be able to fly to New York in an award seat, and return in a premium-fare seat if a return award seat is not available. Travelers will also be able to fly into one city but return home from another, or book an outbound flight during a peak time and the return during an off-peak period.American MD-80American is also upgrading its online award-booking portal. Passengers will be able to reserve award seats online with any of American’s 20 partner airlines, and will be able to use a Spanish-language version of the site.Airline executives say the move was designed to put American ahead of its competitors and to give travelers more flexibility when booking frequent-flier seats. American has the nation’s largest frequent-flier program, with 62 million AAdvantage members who collectively hold about 500 billion miles.Andrew Watson, American’s vice president of customer technology said, “Our customers asked for more options, flexibility and speed when shopping and booking award travel on AA.com, and that’s just what we’ve delivered.”Not only does American curry favor with disgruntled passengers with the move, but it also puts them slightly ahead of their competitors.Delta Air Lines, US Airways, Midwest, and Alaska Airlines all allow passengers to book one-way award tickets but none of them offer such an extensive variety of options as American now does.American’s new system was a year in the making and was made possible by overhauling the company’s booking software and data management programs. Analysts say the massive technological investment required for such a change makes it unlikely that other airlines will follow suit anytime soon, unless they already have something in the works.By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.Related links: USA Today, CNN, Chicago Tribune, AA.comRelated links on PeterGreenberg.com:

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