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Southwest changing loyalty program

Associated Press / January 7, 2011

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DALLAS — Southwest Airlines is revamping its frequent-flier program with changes designed to nudge customers into buying higher-priced tickets by letting them earn bonus flights faster.

Southwest says passengers will be able to redeem points for any flight without blackout dates. Southwest credit card holders will be able to redeem points for international flights on other airlines.

Chief executive Gary Kelly says the overhaul will bring in “several hundred’’ millions of dollars in extra annual revenue within three or four years.

Southwest planned to disclose the changes today and launch the new program March 1.

Since its start in 1987, Southwest Airlines Co.’s Rapid Rewards has been perhaps the simplest loyalty program in the airline industry. In most cases, customers earned one credit for every flight — two for a round trip — and got a free flight with 16 credits.