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SOUTHWEST REDESIGNS COMPANY CLUB, OFFERING NEW PERKS FOR FREQUENT FLIERS

Southwest Airlines has redesigned Company Club, its frequent-flier program, and is offering some new perks for those who often fly the low-fare carrier.

"It's a whole new, fresh look at the frequent flier program," said Southwest spokeswoman Linda Burke Rutherford.In the past, when customers traveled eight round trips in a year they earned one free round trip award to any Southwest destination.

Unlike other frequent flier programs, Southwest does not require customers to keep track of mileage nor do customers have to request vouchers. Instead, complimentary tickets are awarded automatically.

The round-trip award arrangement in the newly remained Rapid Rewards Club remains the same - eight round-trip flights earn a free one.

But the revamped program now lets members earn additional flight credits by making long distance calls with MCI, car rentals with Alamo, Budget and Hertz, or purchases with American Express and Diners Club.

Members can give their awards tickets to others, make reservations on an exclusive reservations number and those over 21 who earn an award ticket get a complimentary drink coupon booklet.

"That has gotten jazzed up. The coupons say things like `Bottoms up!' and `Cheers!' We're trying to lighten the mood a little bit," Rutherford said.

"We're recognizing the new trend that leisure travelers are increasing in numbers and becoming memebrs of our frequent flier program. It used to be just business travelers, but with the way the industry has changed and with the advent of low fare airlines like Southwest, people can fly more often even for leisure trips," Rutherford said.

"This is a freshening up of the whole program, if you will. The travel industry experts predicted that frequent flier programs would get less generous. Our program has always been simple and easy to use and we wanted to make sure the name - Rapid Rewards - reflected that," Rutherford said.

In a related move, Southwest earlier eliminated the 18-year-old age requirement to qualify for membership.

"This is a sign of changing times because we haev so many more children who are traveling," Rutherford said. "More than 1,800 members of the frequent flier club are under the age of 12."

Rutherford said the renovation of Southwest's frequent flier program was not tied to Delta Airline's recent promotion that pokes fun at Southwest by suggesting that Delta customers earn trips to "Barcelona, not Boise" or other exotic locales. "This has been in the planning for several months," she said.