In January 1988, Delta offered travelers a truly spectacular deal: triple miles for all flights charged to an American Express card and flown before the end of the year.
Delta's competitors had no choice but to match. But they upped the ante, awarding triple miles for tickets charged to any credit card -- adding billions of miles in liability to the airlines' ledgers and, since all airlines made essentially the same offer, leaving the carriers' share of the market mostly unchanged.
It was a disaster.
Thereafter, having learned the hard way that generosity is not always the best policy, the airlines have been much more circumspect in their promotional activities. In the post-triple-mile era, bonus mile offers typically have been route-specific, limited to a one- or two-month period. And travelers are routinely required to register for the offers, limiting the awarding of miles to consumers who at least are aware of the promotions.
I was reminded of the above by one of the latest offers in American's "25 Deals in 25 Days" anniversary promotion: double miles for all American, American Eagle or AmericanConnection flights completed between May 15 and Nov. 15. Double miles, for all flights, over six months. Are the good old days back?
Not quite. American has cannily limited the offer's take-up by imposing a distinctly contemporary set of conditions.
First, bonus-qualifying flights must be booked on aa.com by May 31. Since most travelers aren't comfortable booking flights more than two months ahead of time, the six-month promotion period is more theoretical than real.
And second, registration is required, using promotion code DBL06, also by May 31.
Still, for those who can plan and travel within those parameters, this is a rare opportunity to super-size their earnings.