- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Travel around the earth 401 times and what have you got?
A free trip to space.
US Airways Group said yesterday it will let customers put frequent-flier miles toward suborbital trips as part of a marketing effort with Space Adventures Ltd., the Arlington tourism firm that arranged to get financier Dennis Tito to space last year.
A person will need to accumulate 10 million frequent-flier miles, however 401 times the circumference of the Earth before he can earn that free trip to space.
"I'm sure there aren't hundreds of people with 10 million miles saved up," Space Adventures Vice President of Corporate Development Michael Lyon said.
Indeed, no one has quite reached that level, but some are getting up in rarefied air, said B. Ben Baldanza, US Airways' senior vice president of marketing.
And there's still plenty of time to rack up the miles. No private company is expected to be able to take passengers to space until at least 2004, because no one has developed a rocket that can make the trip. When one is built, Space Adventures will lease space on the vehicle.
"Someone has to build the vehicle first," said C.J. Wallington, a professor at New York's Rochester Institute of Technology, who teaches a course in space tourism.
The trip to space would take travelers about 62 miles above the earth. Space Adventures already markets a space junket independent of the new marketing deal with US Airways, and the company says it has about 100 people who have made down payments to reserve a spot on a yet-to-be-built space vehicle.
It will cost $98,000 to buy that ticket.
Or you can cash in your frequent-flier miles. US Airways customers can use their existing dividend miles toward a Space Adventures trip.
The suborbital flight similar to the trip Alan Shephard took on May 5, 1961 isn't the only one the two companies are marketing.
Frequent fliers can also put dividend miles toward a trip to the edge of space, about 80,000 feet, in a Russian MiG-25 jet fighter that travels twice the speed of sound. That requires 275,000 dividend miles. The flight to the edge of space will also cost customers $8,000 a piece. Space Adventures normally charges $12,595 for anyone who simply wishes to buy an edge-of-space trip.
A zero-gravity flight that races to 30,000 feet and then plummets, so passengers can experience weightlessness, will cost US Airways customers 250,000 frequent flier miles and $2,000. Space Adventures charges other customers $5,400 for the trip.
US Airways customers will also be able to redeem 30,000 frequent-flier miles and pay $650 to take a trip to the National Aviation and Space Administration's Kennedy Space Center to see a shuttle launch.
While the free suborbital trip may be out of reach of most travelers, the other trips are not, Mr. Wallington said.
"If you're a frequent flier, 250,000 miles is doable," he said. "But by and large, these are promotional."
That's not to say demand for space trips and high-velocity flights is absent, Mr. Wallington said, but the market hasn't fully developed.
Though no one currently has the 10 million frequent-flier miles needed for the suborbital trip, several thousand have enough for the other three awards, Mr. Baldanza said. He said he expects many of the 5 million currently active frequent fliers will take advantage, because many customers have taken trips by cashing in similar quantities of miles.
The 250,000 miles needed for the zero-gravity flight, for instance, could also be used on a four-person family's flight to Europe and back, Mr. Baldanza said.
Staff writer Tim Lemke contributed to this report.


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