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Let’s travel back in time to 1981. Ronald Reagan had just started his first term as president. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the top movie at the box office. Ring any bells? For some of you, this is ancient history — ­after all, in 1981, Lindsay Lohan and ­LeBron James were still years from being born!

Much as it is today, the airline industry was going through tremendous change in 1981. When that year began, nobody had ever heard of frequent-flier miles. That changed in May of that year, when American Airlines launched the AAdvantage program. It was the first — and a quarter-century after its launch it remains the industry’s biggest — travel-awards program. In my view — and the October 2005 issue of Consumer Reports agrees — it is also the best.

The success of the AAdvantage program rests on the loyalty of our legions of devoted­ customers. We hit the ground running in 1981 with about 300,000 members — roughly the current population of Toledo, Ohio — eager to earn and redeem “miles” (a brand-new expression back then) on American Airlines. At the risk of understatement, the program has grown a bit since then. Today, the AAdvantage program has over 50 million members, which is more than the populations of California and Illinois combined. If the AAdvantage program were a country, it would be one of the 25 most populous in the world (smaller than the U.K. and bigger than Spain).

One of the keys to the AAdvantage program’s growth has been the fact that you no longer have to fly frequently to earn rewards. There are literally hundreds of ways to earn miles for things you do every day. You can shop online at more than 200 name-brand merchants by going to www.aa.com/aadvantageeshopping, dine at more than 10,000 restaurants through the ­AAdvantage Dining program, or use the Citi/AAdvantage credit card to earn one mile for every dollar you spend. Check out www.mileagemaximizer.com for more information on the many ways to earn miles on the ground and in the air.

Last month, we celebrated the AAdvantage­ program’s 25th anniversary in a big way by giving every customer on 10 American Airlines and American ­Eagle “Celebration Flights” a 25,000-mile voucher,­ with MasterCard as the official sponsor. That’s a pretty good party favor. To thank the members who made the program’s quarter-century of success possible, we launched a series of promotions called “25 Deals in 25 Days,” with sweepstakes and special offers featuring a different AAdvantage partner each day.

In 1981, AAdvantage miles were a breakthrough innovation in airline marketing — a great idea that differentiated American Airlines from the pack. But it’s no secret that during the past quarter-century, the idea has been adopted (copied is such an ugly word) by lots of companies in and out of the airline industry. So we’ve had to work hard to sustain the AAdvantage program’s status as the world’s leading travel-awards program. Fortunately, we have one big thing going for us that no other airline can duplicate: the American Airlines team.

We understand that at the end of the day, the loyalty of our customers is, first and foremost, a by-product of the poise, professionalism, and care of our people. So I hope you will join me in congratulating the AA team — along with our many partner companies — for making the AAdvantage program a success. I know I speak for them all in saying we intend to earn your loyalty for at least another 25 years, starting with your flight today. Thank you for flying with us.

Picture of Gerard Arpey

Chairman & CEO
American Airlines