Double Miles Kick in for Witchita-Area AirTran Backers

A program designed to encourage ridership on AirTran Airways by Wichita-area business travelers kicked off Tuesday.

Under the program, business travelers who sign up for the AirTran frequent flier program -- called A2B Corporate Travel -- will earn free flights at twice the pace on trips taken from June 7 to the end of July and in October and November, organizers say.

The program is sponsored by the FairFares committee, which has been raising funds from area businesses to pay for the extra flights.

Since fund-raising began six weeks ago, 69 companies have contributed $610,000, said Wichita Area Chamber of Commerce president Bryan Derreberry.

The goal is to increase AirTran ridership and awareness of AirTran's frequent flier program aimed at businesses.

"I think we'll really do well with that concept," Derreberry said.

City and FairFares committee leaders announced details of the plan in mid-March.

Experts say business travel is vital to an airline's success. That's because business travelers typically buy tickets without much advance notice. Consequently, their fares are higher than those who buy tickets several weeks in advance. And business travelers tend to travel more often.

To help the campaign, AirTran has waived the requirement that businesses enrolling in its A2B Corporate Travel program have 10 or more travelers, organizers said.

Now, a company with only one traveler can join, Derreberry said.

He's pleased with the response thus far.

The goal is to raise $1 million.

"I think we're going to get there," Derreberry said.

The committee is still meeting with businesses, he said.

With the enhanced program, business travelers who take flights in June, July, October or November would earn a one-way ticket for every two round trips taken or a round-trip ticket for every four round-trips, Derreberry said. That's double the normal pace.

If the committee meets its $1 million goal, there will be enough money to offer bonus flights for a third time.

And "that program will be even more greatly enriched," Derreberry said.

Then travelers flying AirTran in January or February -- a time of year when ridership is traditionally lower -- would earn one free round-trip ticket for each round-trip taken, he said.

"That depends on raising the money," Derreberry said.

In addition to the campaign, the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County have approved $3.5 million in revenue guarantees to AirTran to help underwrite any losses the airline might have while providing a fourth year of service in Wichita. AirTran's new contract with the city began May 8.

Despite last year's subsidies from the city, AirTran lost money serving Wichita, chamber officials have said.