Latin airlines tempt travelers with pass for frequent fliers


Airlines from the United States have been flying more passengers to Latin America, but 14 Latin carriers recently teamed up to try to slow the Yankee blitz by offering customers a frequent flier program called Latinpass.

USAir, the only U.S. carrier in the Latinpass program, has a domestic route system that positions it to fly passengers to and from a dozen gateway cities in the United States.

The most important of these is Miami, where USAir is eager to increase its business. Diners Club, a subsidiary of Citicorp, also recently joined Latinpass; American Express signed a preliminary agreement to join; and hotel and rental car partners are expected to sign on soon.

Latinpass passengers who fly any member airline can accrue frequent flier mileage redeemable for flights on any of the 15 carriers, while those who belong to American Express Membership Miles or Diners Club Club Rewards can earn mileage on Latinpass carriers without leaving the ground.

Eduardo Gallardo, the program director of Latinpass, said member carriers served 34 gateways in Latin America via direct flights from the United States, more than all United States carriers combined, as well as almost 90 other cities not served by United States carriers. Excluding USAir, the Latinpass carriers fly 940 daily flights to 378 cities.

In addition to USAir, the Latinpass members are ACES and Avianca (Colombia); Aviateca (Guatemala); LLoyd Aereo Boliviano (Bolivia); COPA (Panama); Faucett (Peru); Lacsa (Costa Rica); LAN Chile and Ladeco (Chile); Mexicana (Mexico); NICA (Nicaragua); Saeta (Ecuador); TACA (El Salvador); and TransBrasil (Brazil).

"The new partnerships are a good deal for business travelers," said Randy Petersen, publisher of Inside Flyer magazine, "and they're a good strategy to enable member airlines to compete with the big U.S. carriers. They also bring a lot of credibility to the members of Latinpass."

Many of those Latin carriers already offer frequent flier programs, aimed primarily at travelers in their own countries, but the Latinpass program is aimed at foreign business fliers -- much as is the code-sharing partnership of Delta Air Lines with Varig Airlines of Brazil and Aeromexico.

Code sharing integrates flight schedules and allows the airlines to sell seats on each other's flights. USAir is understood to be considering a code-sharing arrangement with one or more Latinpass carriers.

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