American Airlines succumbs to logic, enables one-way frequent-flier deals

American Airlines just e-mailed me to tell me that it's easing its restrictions on mile redemption. From now on, American will let us redeem miles for one-way flights, not just for round-trips, as the rule had been. Nor will it continue charging each one-way fare as though it were a full-round trip; now, a one-way is half a round trip, which, according to my calculations, is precisely what a one-way flight is worth.

I found out how stingy the airlines can be about frequent flier miles in February, when I wanted to book a flight from my home in New York City to Los Angeles, then fly to Chicago for a few days on the way back to New York. I wanted to buy three one-way flights, but every airline demanded that I pay for six: three round trips between New York and Los Angeles, Los Angeles and Chicago, and Chicago and New York. The idea being that I'd just have to throw out the return flights for each leg -- and lose those miles, too. Say you wanted to fly somewhere and then drive back: most airlines will make you buy twice as much ticket as you want.

But American, which created the first frequent-flier program some 30 years ago, has changed the rules to match what the set-price carriers like JetBlue and Southwest have been doing for years: treat flights as one-way, and give the customer flexibility. American will even let you mix classes of service -- fly one way in business and back in economy.

The new system even allows customers to avoid using travel agents for complex itineraries, which saves us another $20. From nearly every angle -- except the new fee for checking our bags), you get more value for your frequent-flier miles, which means your money goes farther.

Why the change? It's simple: Many of us consumers are sick of kowtowing to the airlines' ever-escalating extra charges, and we're increasingly remembering to use our frequent flier miles. Airlines don't make money off frequent fliers; we paid them a long time ago for flights we've already taken. The airlines want us to burn off our frequent-flier miles and get back to buying more tickets for cash.

So I'll give American the point for this round. Will the other airlines follow? I've got a stack of Delta miles to use, too.

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