Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the start of AAdvantage, the frequent flyer program of American Airlines. Even though it seems like every airline nowadays has a FFP, the idea was a foreign concept twenty-five years or so ago.
On the eve of the deregulation of the industry in 1977, executives at American Airlines knew that there had to be a better way to gain the loyalty of their top customers. United Airlines gave customers a wall plaque on which they could add a star for every hundred thousand miles they flew. Michael Derchin, head of the airline's marketing department, devised a plan. Seemlingly simple enough today, it was a radical idea at the time: the more a passenger flew, the more miles he or she got. It took a few years to get the kinks worked out (and to get adequate computer systems introduced), but on May 1, 1981, the world's first frequent flyer program debuted.
United Airlines rolled out Mileage Plus eleven days later. And the rest is history.