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Bonus miles for Paris flights? Oui, oui!

Bonus miles for summer flights to France? Of course not! Summer is peak season for vacation travel. And Paris is a prime leisure travel destination. Flights should be running full, with no need for marketing incentives.

Yet American has just announced a mileage promotion, awarding miles for flights from New York to Paris (Charles de Gaulle), through September 1.

The bonus: triple miles for business class (J, D, or I booking classes), and double miles for unrestricted coach (Y or B). To be sure, these are higher-priced fares, generally purchased by business travelers. But the fact that the offer includes coach fares, even higher ones, indicates that coach seats are going unsold. And again, given the normal summer travel patterns on such a popular route, that’s peculiar.

Clearly, consumer demand for American’s Paris flights is soft. As to why, we can only speculate about the combination of factors at work here. The dollar is weak, making hotels, meals, and other expenses extra pricey in Europe. Fares have been increasing, and are expected to rise further. And the generally sorry state of travel could be eroding consumers’ interest in flying.

Perhaps more important than “Why?” is “What’s next?” Might we see similar offers promoting flights to other European destinations? London, perhaps? Frankfurt, Amsterdam? Could the promotions be expanded to include cheaper fares? And might the falloff in demand go so far as to force the airlines to reverse their current course and cut fares?

Improbably, those are all possible scenarios. Whatever happens, this will be the first summer in years that such questions even arise.

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