AMERICAN LETS COMPANIES BUY MILES

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Your favorite local clothing store is offering free frequent flier travel miles. Boost your mileage awards by taking a test drive at a car dealership or meeting your own sales goals at work.

Frequent flier award opportunities will be cropping up in unlikely places, thanks to a new American Airlines' marketing program that begins this month.

Called AAdvantage Incentive Miles, the program allows companies of all sizes to buy travel miles without the hassle of lengthy partnership negotiations. Instead, companies can simply purchase AAdvantage mileage vouchers in denominations of 500, 1,000 or 5,000 miles to customize their own pro- motional or incentive program tied to travel awards. Companies' cost is 2 cents a mile.

American will promote the program in limited print ads from Temerlin McClain, Dallas, starting in December. The airline's sales force, using an already prepared kit, will try to create a buzz. American also set up a toll-free number, (800) 771-5000, to answer questions about the program.

Other carriers are expected to copy American's incentive miles program, which is the first of its kind.

"We'd certainly take a close look at what American is doing because the third-party relationship for frequent flier miles is very attractive to airlines," said a Northwest spokesman.

While American already has more than 30 partners in the industry's largest frequent flier program, the airline expects the ease and flexibility of the new incentive plan to attract "thousands" more companies to piggyback on the lure of free mileage.

"The beauty of this program is that each company can design their own program around these certificates," said Bruce Chemel, American's managing director of marketing programs.

American already has signed agreements with an undisclosed car manufacturer, an aviation company and a trucking company.

American is extending its frequent flier program as mileage requirements for a coach seat increase to 25,000 miles from 20,000 miles on Feb. 1. Most other airlines are implementing similar rules with the exception of Delta Air Lines, which lowers its award from 30,000 to 25,000 miles.

Separately, the U.S. Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments on whether a group of disgruntled American frequent fliers can bring a class action lawsuit against the airline on behalf of millions of travelers. The case stems from a challenge of American's right to change its frequent flier rules in 1988.

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