A handful of mortgage lenders are blazing a trail in the sky with new frequent-flier incentives.
Mileage programs with airlines are now offered by Countrywide Home Loans of Calabasas, Calif.; GMAC Mortgage of Horsham, Pa.; North American Mortgage Co., a Tampa subsidiary of Dime Bancorp; and CIBC Mortgages Inc. in Toronto. These lenders have deals with United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, and Air Canada, among others.
The marketing efforts come amid rising competition in the mortgage business. Similar programs have helped increase the use of credit cards in recent years for everything from gasoline and groceries to paying taxes.
Mortgage companies in the United States typically offer customers 1,000 miles per $10,000 loan amount for originations or refinancings, with no maximum. A homebuyer taking out a $200,000 loan would get 20,000 miles -- the lion's share of what is needed for a round-trip domestic airline trip on most airlines.
Home equity borrowers typically get a flat rate of 2,500 miles on a one-time basis, though GMAC Mortgage offers such borrowers 175 miles for every $1,000 financed, with no limit.
Countrywide struck its first alliance with United Airlines three years ago. It added American Airlines in 1998 and, this year, the Hilton HHonors program, which offers the option of earning hotel points, said Joe Anderson, executive vice president for consumer markets at Countrywide.
All three alliances give Countrywide "an avenue to direct consumer media," Mr. Anderson said, explaining how Countrywide places inserts in American Airlines' and United Airlines' frequent-flier statements and creates links to their Web sites.
People can get their miles through Countrywide's program only if it is the direct lender through its call centers and retail lending division, Mr. Anderson said, but not if Countrywide buys the loan from a broker or correspondent.
"The cost of the miles is not built into the price at all," he said, adding that customers get the same rates and prices regardless of whether they are mileage members or not. "The pull-through is very strong because people like to chase miles," he said, adding that volume is "greatly contingent on interest rates."
Some airlines also have made deals with real estate brokers, including Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, PMP Relocation Services, and Prudential Referral Services to offer homebuyers or sellers miles based on the home price, according to InsideFlyer magazine.