Southwest Revamps its Frequent-Flier Program

Southwest Airlines is making it easier for frequent fliers to earn free tickets -- but those seats might be a little harder to come by once travelers go to cash in their awards.

Dallas-based Southwest, the nation's largest low-fare carrier, unveiled several changes to its frequent-flier program Wednesday. Under the new policy, the airline will give passengers 24 months to collect credit for free travel, doubling the previous amount of time allowed.

It will also remove so-called "blackout dates," when seats had not been available for frequent-flier awards.

But for the first time, Southwest will limit the number of free seats available on each flight, similar to awards policies at most other airlines.

Airline executives say the changes will make the program more attractive to most travelers. In practice, it will also allow the airline to limit the number of free seats on the most lucrative, high-demand flights.

The program "is a generous and simple vehicle for our loyal customers to earn free travel," Joyce Rogge, the airline's senior vice president of marketing, said in a statement.

Customers had been asking for more time to accumulate awards, she said, and the changes will make that possible.

Southwest's program is considered more generous than most, with free seats available after booking just eight trips.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press