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British Airways changes its rules

If you're a frequent flier, the changing face of global aviation may soon have you changing your travel plans.

British Airways, facing increased competition from the two biggest U.S. airlines _ American and United _ announced Tuesday it will offer its own benefits to U.S. frequent fliers.

British Airways also will end its current affiliation with the American and United frequent flier programs. The old partnerships will be replaced by a new deal in which American and British Airways will cooperate in markets where they do not compete.

In essence, the huge airlines will honor each other's frequent flier mileage on their own half of the globe. But on flights against the Atlantic, where they are now big rivals, frequent flier awards would not be interchangeable.

United will be left out of the arrangement as British Airways ends its relationship with United's Mileage Plus program as of May 31.

British Airways hopes to lure more customers by setting up its new frequent flier plan, the Executive Club Frequent Traveller Programme USA, although one industry observer said the move could send travelers to the competition.

Miles racked up on British Airways flights can earn free flights on the British carrier.

The miles can also be redeemed for flights anywhere in the Western Hemisphere on American Airlines, while travelers who accumulate frequent flier miles in American's AAdvantage program can use them on British Airways flights in the Eastern Hemisphere as of April 1.

"We feel that because American and United have become competitors now, we have to establish our own frequent flier program," British Airways spokesman John Lampl said. But British Airways found in a survey that U.S. travelers wanted to be able to redeem miles for domestic trips, and American was the preferred choice, so it reached the deal to let them fly the American flights.

American spokesman Marty Heires said his carrier sees "some advantages to the relationship that will be continuing." United spokesman Joe Hopkins declined comment.

This twist in the competition for frequent fliers, the airlines' most sought-after customers, marks a shift in airline marketing strategy.

In the early 1980s, British Airways affiliated its United Kingdom frequent flier program with the American and United programs, which gave British Airways access to people flying between U.S. destinations and gave American and United access to international passengers.

Now that American and United have replaced TWA and Pan Am as the U.S. flag carriers going into London's Heathrow Airport, British Airways finds itself competing fiercely with its former partners.

British Airways said it will continue to maintain partnerships with the frequent flier programs of other carriers, including USAir and Alaska Airlines, which provide access to U.S. markets but offer little or no competition across the Atlantic.

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