Nowadays, almost every airline around the world has some kind of frequent flyer program that rewards its customers with airline redemptions, upgrades, and other products. Modern frequent flyer programs also partner with credit cards, whose customers also receive rewards. But which airline was the first to introduce such a program?
The Simple Flying website has compiled a list of the first five airlines to introduce relevant frequent flyer programs.
Delta Air Lines Frequent Flyer Program (later SkyMiles)
Delta Air Lines and Delta Connection passengers traveling on most fare types can earn "miles" for their travel. The airline introduced the frequent flyer program in 1981. Initially, the only way to accumulate miles was to travel with the carrier and its affiliates. Later, like other carriers, Delta started to award miles through credit cards and other programs. Those who use Delta co-branded credit cards can earn miles for tickets, upgrades, and other products.
United Airlines "Mileage Plus" (later MileagePlus)
United Airlines passengers traveling on certain types of tickets can earn rewards. The airline introduced a frequent flyer program in May 1981, just a few months before Delta's SkyMiles. The program, called United Mileage Plus after its merger with Continental Airlines in 2012, was later renamed MileagePlus. Continental's OnePass was integrated into United's program, and existing OnePass members kept their numbers. Existing OnePass credits were also transferred to MileagePlus United.
American Airlines "AAdvantage"
American Airlines and American Eagle passengers can earn AAdvantage miles for certain fare types. The airline introduced the frequent flyer program in May 1981, a few days before United Airlines' MileagePlus program. American Airlines is a member of the oneworld alliance along with 12 other members.
Western Airlines "Travel Bank"
Western Airlines, based in California, was a major airline operating primarily in the western United States, Canada, Mexico, London, and Nassau. It is headquartered at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It was one of the few major airlines to introduce a frequent flyer program in 1980. The program was named Travel Bank as a way to use the rewards earned.
Texas International Airlines
Houston-based Texas International Airlines began operations in 1944 under the name Aviation Enterprises. The airline primarily served some routes in the United States, including Baltimore, Denver, Omaha, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City, and also flew to Mexico City across the border. While some airlines in the 1950s and 1960s rewarded frequent flyers, Texas International Airlines is widely known for its first official frequent flyer program, founded in 1979.