[top photo: Mr Peter Kapoor (L), regional vice-president of American Express, holding up a model of an AirAsia plane.]
SEVEN years ago, a fledgling low-cost airline approached credit-card companies in Singapore, hoping they would allow their cards to be used in online and over-the-phone transactions.
Roll on seven years and the budget airline, AirAsia, has grown in prominence, adding many more routes and even flying to longer-haul destinations such as the United Kingdom. It was recently voted the world's best low-cost airline.
In 2006, it was Amex's turn to do the courting, said its regional vice-president Peter Kapoor as it embarked on a "three-year courtship" to work out a tie-up with AirAsia.
Yesterday, the two firms scored a first when they launched a partnership; Amex previously had tie-ups only with full-service airlines such as Singapore Airlines.
Amex cardmembers can now use their credit cards to book AirAsia flights online and over the phone.
AirAsia's popularity with Amex cardholders was one major reason the credit-card company sought to work out the partnership with the airline, said Mr Kapoor.
"The low-cost carrier is not just for backpacking travellers. Nowadays, businessmen, whether from big corporations or small companies, travel on budget airlines, especially to our neighbouring countries."
AirAsia's regional head of commercial Kathleen Tan said there have been some 30,000 transactions with Amex customers since the tie-up was implemented last month.
Ms Tan said the airline grew by 30 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year, despite the economic crisis and worldwide flu scare.
"During an economic downturn, there's more reason for companies to cut costs, but people still need to fly. We are providing for that - premium flights that are affordable."