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Executive Travel | ON THE MOVE / CAROL SMITH

Unusual Ways to Earn Frequent-Flier Mileage Are Taking Wing

June 26, 1996|CAROL SMITH

With frequent-flier mileage becoming a virtual currency for many business travelers, it pays to be on the lookout for new ways to earn miles. And airlines are doing their part by coming up with ever more unusual ways for travelers to add to their accounts.

Most people are aware that they can get miles by making purchases of consumer goods. Indeed, you can get miles for buying everything from mattresses to tires.

But there's more.

"Customer motivation is becoming the new hot area," said Randy Petersen, publisher of InsideFlyer, a Colorado-based magazine that tracks the frequent-flier mileage industry. Because airlines and other organizations know that miles get people's attention, they have started using them to get customers to do things for them, such as filling out surveys. Some real estate agents have even started giving away miles as bonuses for tenant referrals.

Miles can be a powerful incentive for changing passenger behavior, Petersen said.

"I think soon you will see airlines giving away miles for not checking baggage," Petersen said. "Checked baggage slows down the whole process of getting away from the gate."

Companies are hoping miles can also influence behavior that doesn't relate to travel. American Airlines, for example, recently launched a program with Service Master that lets people earn miles for getting work done around the house. Members earn miles whenever they schedule home repair or maintenance through Service Master's network. Services range from fumigating houses to fertilizing lawns.

One of the hottest ways to use miles is to influence charitable giving, Petersen said.

Northwest Airlines, for example, gives bonus miles to passengers who donate tickets or cash to Northwest AirCares, its corporate charity program. Northwest will give 500 miles to anyone who donates a WorldPerks Fly-Write ticket or makes a cash contribution of $50 or more, spokesman Jim Faulkner said. Every quarter, AirCares will choose one national or international nonprofit organization to be the focus of its charitable fund-raising. Recipients have included the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the American Red Cross, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Toys for Tots.

The strategy appears to be working. Second Harvest, a hunger-relief organization that is the current AirCares partner, reports that it is receiving contributions from Northwest passengers at a rate of $400 a day.

American Airlines is also working on a way to use miles to persuade people to give instead of get. It recently introduced AAdvantage Fund Raising, an effort to assist nonprofit organizations with their fund-raising. The airline will help nonprofits design their own mileage incentive programs.

There are more than 1 million nonprofit agencies in the United States competing for dollars, said Henry Joyner, vice president of marketing planning for American.

To raise money, nonprofits need to be able to offer new incentives. Offering miles is part of a new wave of ways to persuade people to donate.

The use of miles to influence people's behavior can work to the airline's advantage as well.

America West, for example, gives away miles as a bonus to people who sign up their friends in the airline's FlightFund frequent-flier program.

You get 4,000 miles for enrolling four friends. The catch is that the new recruits must each fly on America West by the end of September. To sweeten the pot, however, America West gives each of the friends you sign up a 2,500-mile enrollment bonus.

Over at British Airways, you can get miles for speaking your mind. The airline periodically gives away miles to program members who participate in customer surveys. Last month, for example, a flier could get 500 bonus miles for answering five questions about the airline's newsletter. From now through September, you can get miles if you give the airline feedback on its new "cradle seat" in its business-class section.

"We do [promotions] in a targeted way from time to time when we need specific information," spokeswoman Margie Vodopia said.

Although such promotions appear to be on the rise, savvy consumers must keep their eyes open for mention of them, then act quickly.

Many, such as those that give away miles for making referrals to an airline frequent-flier program, are offered only for a limited time.

Carol Smith is a freelance writer based in Seattle. If you have experiences to share or suggestions for Executive Travel, please write Executive Travel Editor, Business Editorial, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053; fax (213) 237-7837; or e-mail business@

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