Frequent Flyer promos worth noting

I like when the airlines offer frequent flyer promos for a number of reasons. First off, there’s the opportunity to earn a ton of extra points. But most promos don’t apply to most customers so there is another aspect to it that I find interesting. The promos are often used by the airlines to improve bookings on routes where there is heavy competition or where the loads are otherwise not performing all that well. When the promos are system-wide it is an even stronger signal that the airline is looking to drum up business in an hurry.

A few weeks back there were a rash of bonuses announced on the Baltimore – Boston route as Southwest, JetBlue and AirTran began fighting in earnest for market share on the route. In the past couple weeks another set of routes has seen a targeted bonus pop up: premium cabin trans-continental routes. Delta fired the opening shot in that battle offering up huge numbers of miles for service in their relatively new BusinessElite product on flights between New York City’s JFK and both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Passengers buying paid business class tickets can earn 50,000 points for each round trip flown on the routes. For passengers with slightly less deep pockets there are 25,000 mile bonuses available for folks flying on the most expensive coach fares, most of whom will be riding in the BusinessElite seats anyways. The promo is valid for travel from April 1 to May 30.

American Airlines responded earlier this week, essentially copying the Delta offer. At least they didn’t have the gall to call their regular economy seating “premium economy” fares.No word yet on whether Virgin America or United Airlines – the two other carriers with a premium product on the transcon routes – will be responding to this fight. Some additional coverage of the NYC transcon promos can be found here.

It seems that business travel is recovering a bit but perhaps not as many companies are offering paid premium cabin travel for the domestic transcons anymore, pitting the carriers against each other in an effort to grab the lion’s share of that shrinking market.

American has also launched a rather creative tiered promotion for service to their newest destinations. The carrier is adding service to 17 destinations in the coming months and passengers who fly to more than one of those destinations will receive progressively more bonus points, up to 100,000 if they can get to 10 of the airports. This promo also requires registration and runs through the end of July.

And then there’s Southwest Airlines. Forget targeted promotions. Rapid Rewards has a wide-open promo running right now. All fares and all routes are eligible with the lower fares receiving double credit (one bonus point for each itinerary) and Business Select fares receiving 2.25-3 credits per itinerary depending on distance traveled. The promotion is valid for travel through May 26, 2010. Wholesale promos like this hearken back to the crazy promotions that most the legacy carriers were running double elite miles promos in an effort to build new bookings. The Southwest promo is only good on new bookings so they’re doing what they can to generate more revenue in the short term. Is this a bad sign for Southwest? Are future bookings and revenue numbers that weak? We won’t really know for a couple months yet when the financial reports come out, but seeing promos like this are always a red flag to me regarding a carrier.

Lots of opportunities to earn a ton of points right now, assuming you’re flying on these carriers and on these routes. Have fun!

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.