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R.I.P.: The Father of Frequent Flyer Programs

Among airline marketers of a certain age, there are more than a few who would lay claim to having fathered airline frequent flyer programs, and by extension the modern theory and practice of loyalty marketing generally.

But really, frequent flyer programs are the product of airline deregulation; and the father of deregulation—and hence of travel loyalty programs—was the economist Alfred Kahn.

It was Kahn who, as Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board under Jimmy Carter, oversaw (and vigorously promoted) the deregulation of the industry, leading to the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. The rest—discount carriers, mileage programs, convoluted pricing schemes, labor discord, financial instability—is history.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kahn several times over many years, and he was unfailingly kind and accommodating—in spite of the fact that I sometimes challenged his unwavering faith in the free market.

Kahn died on Monday, at age 93, his legacy left to be debated—as he would have wanted it—but secure.

This article originally appeared on

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