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American Airlines gets personal

American Airlines plans next week to begin giving its 31 million frequent-flyer club members access to their accounts on the Internet.

In one of the broadest uses of personalization on the Net to date, American Airlines is scheduled on Monday to give its 31 million frequent-flyer club members access to their accounts on the Internet.

The relaunched site also will let members of its AAdvantage program make reservations online more quickly on American's Sabre system; get targeted discounts for cities they frequently visit; and get online access to special fare deals.

"Our customers now have more power of information [from American's Web site] than our customer service reps," said John Samuel, American's managing director of interactive marketing.

"There's no doubt it's the biggest personalized site on the Web," boasted Sandra Vaughan, vice president of marketing for Broadvision, whose software is the basis for American's relaunched site. American's old site was already the most-trafficked travel site on the Net, with more than 6 million page views per week, according to Media Metrix.

The move, in the works since last fall, underscores the rapid emergence of personalization technologies on the Net.

Also on Monday, Vignette, as reported last month, will unveil a new version of its StoryServer content publishing software with new personalization features. Vignette joins a string of software vendors adding the ability for Web sites to offer personalized content and attention to individual visitors.

Netscape Communications intends to put personalization into its full line of e-commerce software by year's end, and Microsoft will do the same. Microsoft's consumer division recently purchased Firefly Networks, an early personalization player that employs collaborative filtering techniques.

"There are a lot of point solutions that claim to do personalization. Our perspective is, it's really an enterprise software sale," Vaughan said. Another BroadVision customer, US West, draws data from 25 mainframes to run its online presence.

Vignette, moving from the publishing space, is using collaborative filtering from another vendor, NetPerceptions, as part of StoryServer 4.0.

"This is a business, not a technical problem," said Peter Klante, Vignette's vice president of marketing. Personalization can build customer loyalty in a medium where a competitor is only a click away, he argued.

American first went online in May 1995, with its principal goal to reduce distribution costs, Samuel said. But its Web site quickly evolved into a tool for building customer loyalty and thus boosting sales.