The Brancatelli File



April 1, 1994 -- Frequent-flyer programs have expanded again: many now offer mileage credit for long-distance telephone calls.

Adding phone companies to the loyalty schemes completes the travel circle. When they were launched in the early 1980s, frequent-flyer programs were simply that--marketing vehicles designed to induce heavy business travelers to patronize a particular domestic airline. But the plans were so successful in building loyalty that the other components of business travel--foreign airlines, car-rent firms and hotels--joined the party. Then credit cards--the primary payment method for travel expenditures--hitched their stars to the frequent-flyer bandwagon. And now it's phone companies, the communications lifeline for business travelers.

Here's the who's who of the new phone and airline partnerships.

Sprint (800-877-7746), the nation's third-largest phone company, has joined the lucrative TWA Frequent Flight Bonus Program. You receive five TWA frequent-flyer miles for every dollar you pay Sprint for residential service or for calls charged to its FON Card. Ultra frequent flyers who qualify for membership in TWA's lucrative Gold Card Program receive seven miles for every dollar they spend with Sprint.

MCI (800-284-0980), the number-two long-distance phone firm, has joined two frequent flyer programs. For every dollar you spend with MCI for residential long-distance service, you receive five frequent-flyer miles in either the American AAdvantage or the Northwest WorldPerks program.

The behemoth of the business is the erstwhile Ma Bell, AT&T (800-7-REWARD), which still controls 60 percent of the nation's long-distance business. AT&T hasn't joined a frequent-flyer program so much as launched its own frequent-caller loyalty plan.

The new AT&T "True Rewards" program gives one point of credit for every dollar you spend in any month you make at least $25 of residential long-distance or AT&T credit-card calls. True Rewards points can be redeemed for free AT&T long-distance calls, or for miles in three airline frequent-flyer plans: United MileagePlus, Delta Frequent Flyer or USAir Frequent Traveler. One hundred True Rewards points equal 500 frequent-flyer miles or about 30 minutes of free calls.

Several smaller long-distance firms also have joined the frequent-flyer fray. Metromedia (800-275-4747) has linked up with TWA; Capital TeleTravel (800-324-7370) has teamed up with the Continental OnePass program; and Alascom (800-252-7266) has joined the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. All of these alliances offer five miles for each long-distance dollar spent.

The best way to ensure you get the benefit of these new phone plans is to contact your frequent-flyer program or long-distance carrier immediately. Make sure to enroll your qualifying phone numbers and calling-card numbers--and confirm that they are cross-referenced against your frequent-flyer membership number.

San Francisco's status as the nation's predominant Asia-Pacific gateway is in flux again. Qantas, the Australian flag carrier, has dropped all service from San Francisco International, and moved flights to Los Angeles. On the other hand, United Airlines is expanding trans-Pacific service from SFO. By summer, United says, it will operate 74 weekly flights, including thrice-weekly nonstop service to Sydney.....Virgin Atlantic, the quirky British airline owned by entertainment entrepreneur Richard Branson, is coming to San Francisco. Nonstop Virgin flights to London are scheduled to begin May 17....Northwest Airlines and KLM Royal Dutch have launched "World Business Class" service on international flights. Business-class service and amenities will be the same regardless of which airline you're flying.

This column originally appeared in San Francisco Focus magazine.

Copyright 1993-2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.