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American Airlines allows 1-way award flights

Beginning today, American Airlines’ frequent fliers will be able to book one-way award flights – for half the miles required to book a round-trip ticket.

The change gives the more than 60 million AAdvantage program members flexible booking options not previously available to them nor available now to members of frequent-flier programs run by big rival airlines.

The move by the USA’s second-biggest airline was greeted gladly by travel analysts familiar with fliers’ frustrations about the inflexibility of many awards programs.

The change lets AAdvantage members take a one-way trip for 12,500 points, half the 25,000 needed for a free round trip.

American says its aim is to enhance the appeal of AAdvantage, which the airline has long believed helps sell more tickets, especially to high-mileage business travelers who are willing to pay above-average fares.

Several small and discount carriers allow their frequent fliers to turn in points for one-way trips. But American is the first of the USA’s big conventional network carriers to allow it.

Called One-Way Flex Awards, the change lets AAdvantage members:

— Fly one way on an award ticket and return by another means, including a purchased one-way ticket.

— Book a trip to several cities on points. Previously, AAdvantage required round-trip travel between two cities.

— Book an award trip in coach in one direction and a premium-class seat in the other.

— Split an award trip between American and one of its 20 AAdvantage program partner airlines. Previously, awards trips had to be completed entirely on American or entirely on one of its partners.

— Travel in one direction on an award ticket at “off-peak” times and the other on a “peak” award ticket. Frequent fliers long have been frustrated by the difficulty of finding available seats both ways within “off-peak” periods, which require fewer mileage points.

Tim Winship at FrequentFlier.com calls the changes “a step forward for both frequent-flier programs and the people who participate in them.”

Henry Harteveldt, Forrester Research’s travel analyst, says the change is an “out-of-the-park winner, very customer-friendly. It’s very sensitive to the times.”

Analysts say they expect competitors to move quickly to match American.

But it may not be easy. Rob Friedman, president of American’s AAdvantage marketing programs division, says it took American more than a year to change software and data management systems to make it happen.

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