Southwest Airlines Unveils New Frequent Flyer Program

Posted Jan 6th 2011 04:21 PMUpdated Jan 6th 2011 04:42 PM

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Southwest Airlines unveiled its long-awaited All-New Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program, which will eliminate blackout dates and allow redemption for international flights for the first time.

The program, which will officially launch March 1, will allow members to redeem points for any seat on any flight, with no blackout dates or seat restrictions.

Points won't expire so long as the member has any earning activity within a 24-month time period. Members will earn points for every dollar spent on Southwest.

The amount of points earned is based on the fare and fare product purchased, and the same is true for redeeming points.

Wanna Get Away fares, the carrier's lowest level, will earn 6 points per dollar; Anytime fares will earn 10 points per dollar, and Business Select fares will earn 12 points per dollar.

Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins tells AOL Travel News that holders of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit card will be able to redeem points for flights to 800 destinations worldwide through the Chase Bank travel program.

Chase plans to reveal additional details next week.

The tie-in with Chase addresses one of the weaknesses of the current program, which allows members to redeem only flights operated by Southwest, which does not yet fly to international destinations.

Another new feature is the ability to earn miles by shopping and dining, long a staple of network airlines' programs.

Customers will retain existing credits and awards in the current program. They will maintain their value until they are used or expire.

Members' accounts will automatically be transferred to the new program on March 1, 2011 and do not need to re-enroll.

For Southwest's most frequent flyers, there are enhanced A-List and Companion Pass programs and a new level of status, A-List Preferred, that will provide a 100% earning bonus on flights.

Members also will have the ability to purchase points in blocks of 1,000, with a minimum purchase of 2,000 points.

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Jilted LUVer

This is a major downgrade to Rapid Rewards for frequent short-haul travelers, who probably represent most of Southwest's frequent fliers.

Until now, you could spend less than $1000 for 8 cheap ("Wanna Get Away") short-distance round-trips within 2 years (I've flown several such flights recently for round-trip fares ranging from $80 to $140), and then you would get a free round trip *anywhere*. Many destinations cost $400-500 per round-trip even with the cheapest web-only fares. So you could easily spend around $1000 (potentially as little as $650) and then get a $400 trip free.

Now (assuming you don't have lots of money to waste on expensive "Anytime" or Business fares), if you spend $1000, you'll get a free trip worth exactly $100.

Of course, Southwest trumpets all the improvements and most reporters parrot them. I've read many news items about this, and only one, in a little Baltimore paper (http://bit.ly/fDw14q), described what I've pointed out here, which is probably the most typical actual effect of the changes. Boo Southwest. Boo reporters!

January 07 2011 at 3:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mwpotter

Welcome to a much more complicated way to move about the country! "Rapid Rewards 2.0: More choices. More Difficult. More Expensive. Less Rewarding."

January 06 2011 at 5:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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