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Southwest changes frequent-flier program

Effective March 1, passengers will earn points based on the price and type of the airfare rather than credits based on the number of flights they take. Another change is that points will no longer expire.

January 07, 2011|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

In a bid to attract business travelers, Southwest Airlines Co. has rolled out a revamped frequent-flier program.

The Dallas airline, known for low-cost domestic flights, unveiled a new Rapid Rewards program Thursday. When the program launches March 1, the long-standing system in which frequent-flier credits were based on the number of trips taken will be replaced with one in which points accrue based on the price and type of fare paid.

Other airlines, including JetBlue Airways Corp. and Virgin America, have similar price-based programs.

Unlike under the old program, points will not expire and will be usable for any seat, with no blackout dates. Fliers also will have the option to use Southwest points for international flights, which can be booked through an intermediary, Maritz Travel.

The move comes shortly after Southwest announced plans in September to acquire AirTran Airways for $1.4 billion.

Airline industry experts said the changes would most likely benefit business travelers, who tend to book at the last minute and pay higher fares.

But Jay Sorensen, president of airline consultant IdeaWorks, said all customers will appreciate that their points won't expire.

Southwest would not disclose the number of participants in its current Rapid Rewards program.

Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly projected that the revamp would eventually add hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually. Details are available at http://www.newrapidrewards.com.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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