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Southwest Has New Frequent Flyer Partner, Starwood Hotels

If you're a regular reader of the Up Front blog, you know that one of my recurring criticisms of the low-cost carriers' loyalty programs is their relatively sparse partner lineups.

Members of American's program, for example, can earn miles when purchasing goods and services from more than 1,000 companies, representing just about every industry segment. But members of AirTran's A+ program can earn points only for flying on AirTran, using the program-affiliated credit card, renting from Hertz, and buying from a handful of miscellaneous other partner companies. In terms of opportunities to bolster your mileage-account balance, the former obviously trumps the latter.

Bigger beats smaller on the awards side of the programs as well. With American's long list of airline partners, AAdvantage miles can be redeemed for free flights to every corner of the world. AirTran credits are redeemable for flights to, well, anywhere AirTran flies.

Although some of the discount carriers have made noteworthy progress in expanding their frequent flyer partnerships—Virgin America is a shining example—Southwest has been a conspicuous laggard, especially considering the airline's growth into one of the country's largest carriers.

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While Southwest's website boasts "tons of partners," that's hardly the case. Rapid Rewards members can earn credits at most major rental car companies (Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, Thrifty) and for stays at many of the major hotel chains (Best Western, Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental, La Quinta, Marriott, Wyndham). But except for the obligatory program credit card, dining program, and a forlorn online florist (teleflora), that's it. No other airlines. No mileage mall. No miles-for-mortgages.

Given the program's strengths (hotels, rental cars) and weaknesses, Southwest's latest addition to the Rapid Rewards partner roster is more redundant than it is a real program enhancement.

Effective immediately, Rapid Rewards members can earn a half credit for eligible stays at around 1,000 Starwood family hotels (St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W, Westin, Le Meridien, Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, Aloft, Element).

As a launch promotion, members can earn double credits (one credit per stay) at Four Points hotels between August 18 and September 30. Registration required.

New opportunities to earn credits are always a good thing, of course. But Rapid Rewards members already enjoyed plenty of options for earning credits for hotel stays.

And it is a zero-sum game. There are only so many hours in the day of the Rapid Rewards partnership team, and the time they devoted to bringing Starwood onboard was time that could have been spent addressing the program's weaker areas.

Reader Reality Check

Did Rapid Rewards really need another hotel partner?

What company (or type of company) should Southwest add to the Rapid Rewards program?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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