Southwest Faces Backlash Over Rewards Revamp

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Southwest Airlines, the nation's largest low-cost carrier, is facing customer backlash after introducing its revamped frequent flyer program to longtime customers.

The Dallas-based airline changed its Rapid Rewards program to award frequent flyer points based on the amount travelers spend on a ticket, rather than flight segments.

"I have been a huge Southwest booster for years, but the change to Rapid Rewards literally doubles the price of a Hartford-Los Angeles ticket for me," says a Hamden, Conn.-based traveler who posted on the carrier's Facebook page on Saturday.

Another flyer writes she is "steaming" about her lost credits and "impossible phone lines."

"I do not 'Like' you right now SWA," she posted late Sunday night.

Under the new program, the airline also eliminated travel blackouts and expiration dates for accumulated points, but travelers are voicing concerns over the new dollar-based rewards program.

Southwest officials defend the changes as a recognition that Southwest has evolved from a point-to-point leisure carrier when it launched Rapid Rewards 24 years ago.

"We're just a completely different airline today than we were in 1987," Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz tells AOL Travel News. "Back then were a regional short-haul airline, and it just made sense to reward everyone the same."

Southwest first announced the changes in early January and formally introduced the revamped program on March 1. Officials declined to say how many of its 88 million customers are members of its frequent flyer program.

The changes are designed to reward higher paying customers, including customers who fly the airline for business travel. As part of the changes, a new frequent flyer category was created, called A-list Preferred, for travelers who fly 50 one-way segments in a calendar year. Those customers get dedicated phone lines, priority boarding, check-in and security screening, 100% bonus miles and free on-board wi-fi Internet.

Mainz acknowledges that customer service calls have spiked in recent weeks, but adds the airline is slowly beginning to bring its call volume back to normal levels.

"We truly believe this program will benefit our members more than the old program," said Mainz. "It's going to take a little bit of time to adjust to the change."

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