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Frequent-flier miles can fuel spaceflight

Virgin Atlantic Airways says it is offering its frequent fliers free trips to space in two and a half years’ time.
British tycoon and Virgin Atlantic boss
British tycoon and Virgin Atlantic boss Richard Branson, center, holds up a model jet plane at a Hong Kong news conference on Tuesday. Branson announced that Virgin Atlantic frequent-flier miles could be used for spaceflights through Virgin Galactic.Mike Clarke / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways said on Tuesday that it is offering its frequent fliers free trips to space in two and a half years’ time.

Virgin Atlantic said its Flying Club members will be able to convert their earthly miles into space miles.

“We expect the first Virgin Galactic spaceflight to take place in 2008, which gives our Flying Club members time to save up all their miles,” Branson said at a Hong Kong news briefing.

Virgin Galactic, a unit of Virgin Group, is angling to be one of the first companies to offer commercial suborbital flights to space.

“The cost of the project is a quarter of a billion dollars, to build five spaceships and to develop a space station,” Branson said. The initial flights will cost $200,000, but Virgin Galactic expected prices to fall over time, the company said.

Members will need to earn 2 million Flying Club miles to redeem them for a trip with Virgin Galactic into space, the airline said.

American Express also offers suborbital spaceflights as a frequent-flier perk, through a deal with Virginia-based Space Adventures. But the redemption cost is quite a bit higher: You'd need 20 million points to reserve a spot on a future flight. The program also offers zero-gravity flights for 1 million points, and a high-altitude MiG-25 flight for 3 million points.

Branson's Virgin Group also plans to offer a skill-based online game that would give away spaceflights as top prizes.

This report includes information from Reuters and MSNBC's Alan Boyle.