The war between airlines for business travelers on lucrative cross-country routes is heating up just as the busy summer travel season approaches, with American Airlines announcing a rare promotion featuring bonus miles for frequent flier members.
The new program, which experts expect other full-service airlines to match, offers 50,000 frequent flier miles to first and business fare passengers traveling nonstop between San Francisco or Los Angeles International airports and New York's John F. Kennedy International. Passengers must be members of American's frequent flier program, known as AAdvantage.
"We are offering this promotion to let AAdvantage customers on both coasts know how much we value their loyalty," said Rob Friedman, president AAdvantage Marketing Programs for American, in a statement.
To participate, passengers must register at the airline's Web site at www.aa.com/offers using promotion code TRNSN and fly between April 6 and June 30. The offer also applies to travelers who purchased full-fare economy class tickets in several categories and allows these passengers to accrue 25,000 miles for round trip travel.
The promotion would allow passengers paying full freight this spring to accrue enough miles on one flight to redeem for a free coach ticket overseas, or two domestic coach tickets. Typically, earning these free tickets would take many trips.
Airline watchers say the promotion is a sign of intense competition for business travelers at busy coastal airports. "The airlines as a rule do not behave with generosity, unless they are also behaving with some significant degree of desperation," said Tim Winship, editor at large for smartertravel.com. "One would have to conclude from this that business traffic -- first class, business class and full-fare coach travel -- between the two coasts must be very soft."
American currently offers 10 daily nonstops between JFK and LAX, and five between JFK and San Francisco. The carrier competes with both full-service and low-fare airlines for travelers at both airports, including Virgin America, United, JetBlue, and others. At LAX in recent years the number of nonstop flights to New York has grown markedly, pushing down fares.
The influx of new flights has left carriers battling for dwindling market share in the business and first class market -- the place where they make the most money -- during an economic downturn that's also whittled away at business class travel.
"American invented the transcon air market a half century ago and it's been consistently lucrative for them," said Paul Haney, an L.A.-based aviation consultant and former American station manager at LAX in the 1980s.
"The AAdvantage bonus miles promotion may seem over the top for the domestic market," he added, "but it's a logical way for them to hold onto their best customers who may be tempted to defect to one of the relatively new entrants."
Frequent flier experts said that the promotion isn't likely to garner new travel for the airline, but will likely prompt business travelers to choose American over similarly-priced flights elsewhere to earn free tickets.
"Frequent flier promotions like this, they rarely generate new travel," Winship said. "What they do though is they function as a tiebreaker for people who are already planning to travel but who are not absolutely committed to flying on one airline."
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