Free-For-all In the Skies

Frequent-flyer plans spin out of control

They started seven years ago as a clever promotion, a harmless gimmick designed to boost business for airlines. But now frequent-flyer programs have triggered a dangerous dogfight in a vulnerable industry. As the major carriers scramble to offer the best giveaway plans, almost everyone who flies frequently for business or pleasure is busy trying to calculate how many miles of travel it will take to earn a free trip across the country or even around the world.

The frenzy intensified in January, when the airlines began to offer "triple mileage" -- three miles' credit for every mile flown. Suddenly flyers could...

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