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Will U.S. Carriers Follow Air Canada?

Since the 2005 spinoff, he wrote, Aeroplan has outperformed North American airlines, as its market capitalization has doubled to about $4 billion.

Industry experts say there is little reason to think Air Canada's strategy would make sense in the U.S. "The U.S., though a much bigger market, is also a much more competitive market," says Calyon Securities analyst Ray Neidl. "Also, separating the frequent-flier plan could remove an airline from some of its best customers."

Air Canada has been a harbinger of the future in some respects. It was early into bankruptcy following the Sept. 11 attacks, filing in 2003 and emerging in 2004. Then the spinoffs began.

Although Air Canada now trades around C$15, consultant Mike Boyd says the carrier is building a strong franchise. "Air Canada understands its global role," he says. "It understands that the future is not flying Ottawa to Calgary -- there is no real domestic growth in Canada -- but in flying people through Canada on routes like Latin America to Asia, the No. 1 growth market."

But Boyd says the Aeroplan spinoff has little relevance to the U.S. No U.S. frequent flier program approaches Aeroplan in its market position as Canada's strongest loyalty program, he says, so a spinoff "would not bring what people think it will."

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