After meltdown, American looks to win back frequent flyers

Between April 8 and 12, American canceled more than 3,000 MD-80 flights in a frantic flurry of safety inspections precipitated by an embarrassing maintenance lapse.

By all accounts, American made a good-faith effort to accommodate the more than 300,000 affected travelers, issuing vouchers with nary a quibble and freely rebooking passengers on competitors' flights. And that's as it should be: The problem was of American's making, and the solution, however costly, was rightly its responsibility.

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Dealing efficiently and magnanimously with the immediate needs of stranded passengers was only the first stage of the damage control. The follow-up is a generous promotion very precisely targeting American's most profitable customers.

Through June 15, AAdvantage members will earn double elite-qualifying miles for all American, American Eagle, and AmericanConnection flights. (The bonus miles count toward elite qualification, but cannot be redeemed for award travel.)

For AAdvantage members who already have elite status, the bonus miles count toward milestone awards (luggage tags, bonus miles, upgrades, etc.) as well as toward requalification or reaching a higher elite tier.

The bonus miles, in other words, will only benefit AAdvantage members who already have a realistic chance of reaching elite status, or elevating their current elite status.

In an ideal world, an airline responsible for disrupting its customers' trips would appropriately and adequately compensate all distressed travelers, some of whom missed weddings or critical sales calls. The compensation would correlate with the inconvenience suffered, not with a customer's loyalty. And it would not be conditional upon their future flying.

But given the state of commercial aviation in the first decade of the 21st century, the opportunity to earn double elite-qualifying miles is probably the best consumers can hope for.

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