The first airline to develop a frequent flyer program was United Airlines. This program rewarded patrons with promotional materials and engraved plaques. The first airlines to reward customers with travel for their miles was American Airlines in 1981.
Frequent flyer programs reward frequent travelers with air travel and other gifts. Many credit card companies also award their customers with airline miles. Consumers can use miles to buy air travel as well as upgrade to first class and pay for hotel rooms with most exchange programs.
For many airlines, frequent flyers with a certain number of air miles per year also qualify for elevated status. Passengers with status are privy to benefits such as free upgrades, luxurious lounges at the airport and a special customer service line.