AirTran Airways is forging an alliance with Denver-based discount carrier Frontier Airlines that will let customers use their frequent flier miles on both networks.
While the planned pact falls short of a so-called code-share agreement, in which both carriers can sell seats on each other's planes, AirTran President Bob Fornaro called the arrangement "a dramatic expansion" of AirTran's frequent flier program.
"What this will allow us to do is nearly double the opportunities for free travel," Fornaro said.
Under the AirTran-Frontier partnership, the airlines will "refer" customers to the other carrier for online or telephone bookings for trips that combine routes from both airlines. For instance, an AirTran customer in Atlanta who wants to fly to Portland, Ore. - a city AirTran doesn't serve - could take AirTran to Denver, then Frontier to Portland.
The airlines' Web sites will be linked with suggested flights, but customers still must book the flights separately.
Fornaro downplayed that issue, saying the airlines believe the tie-ups between their networks and frequent flier programs will make both carriers more attractive to frequent fliers and business customers. He predicted the move will boost each carrier's revenue by about $10 million annually.
"Our feeling is we're getting a lot of the revenue benefits of a combined operation without the costs associated with it," said Fornaro.
He said the marketing tie-up with Frontier offers a chance for AirTran to significantly expand its reach to the West Coast and Mexico. The airlines will show combined route maps to more than 100 destinations on their Web sites - about double their individual networks.
Frontier flies to about a dozen cities in the western United States and eight cities in Mexico that AirTran doesn't serve.
The new agreement also will allow AirTran and Frontier customers to earn frequent flier miles as though the combined trip were on their preferred carrier, starting today.
The carriers will redeem each other's frequent flier miles starting Jan. 1.
The planned move comes as discount carriers face a serious challenge from resurgent old-line carriers such as Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, which has been slashing costs and expanding its route network after filing for Chapter 11 last year.
AirTran, Delta's largest rival at the Atlanta airport, recently reported a loss in the third quarter and announced that it was slowing aircraft deliveries. The 8,000-employee company has about 700 daily flights, mostly in the eastern half of the United States.
Frontier Airlines is somewhat smaller than AirTran, with 5,000 employees and a fleet of 55 Airbus jets. Frontier operates about 250 flights a day to 55 destinations in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, mostly from its hub in Denver.
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