Southwest reserves right to change rules with less notice

In just the past few weeks, we've seen major announcements from two airlines, notifying consumers of upcoming adjustments to their frequent flyer programs. American, as reported here, is cutting back on the lifespan of AAdvantage miles. And Alaska is raising the price for awards booked by phone.

The worrisome trend toward whittling away the benefits and rights of frequent flyer program participants continues with the following edict from Southwest:

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"Effective December 8, 2007, Southwest Airlines reserves the right to amend, suspend, or terminate the Rapid Rewards program at any time, with 30 days notice. This constitutes a revision of Rapid Rewards rule #27, which currently states: Southwest Airlines reserves the right to amend, suspend, or terminate this program at any time, with six (6) months notice."

Like the recent rule changes by American and Alaska, this won't cause significant numbers of Rapid Rewards members to reconsider their choice of programs. In fact, consumers are proving pretty resilient in the face of these midstream corrections, viewing them as nuisances rather than deal-breakers.

But the cumulative effect of these changes, viewed over the longer term, is a significant erosion of the value of frequent flyer miles. And that amounts to more than a passing irritation.

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