Coming & Going: Southwest changes rewards program; Fla. turnpike goes cashless

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Friday, January 7, 2011; 11:31 AM

Southwest changes its frequent flier program; part of Fla. turnpike goes electric

Southwest, points taken

We'll miss you, 16 credits that earned us a free ticket on Southwest. Sure, the rewards had to be used within two years, which sometimes put the pressure on. And no, they couldn't be applied to international flights, which forced us to visit states we normally would have flown over en route to Europe or Asia. But we understand that things must change, like your Rapid Rewards program, and we are willing to give your new frequent flier plan a chance. Just please, don't make us do too much math.

"I think the new program is a huge improvement over the old program," said Tim Winship, editor-at-large of Smarter Travel. The old program's "number one selling point was its simplicity, and that has been sacrificed for the new program. But I think it's a worthwhile sacrifice, considering all the other benefits."

Previously, travelers earned a credit for each one-way flight they took on Southwest. When they'd earned 16 credits, they got a free ticket. So what can frequent Southwest fliers expect now?

Starting March 1, passengers will collect points based on ticket cost and category. (Virgin America and JetBlue follow a similar model; the major carriers typically employ mileage-based programs.) For example, from cheapest to most expensive: Wanna Get Away earns six points to the dollar; Anytime, 10 points; and Business Select, 12 points.

"You know what you're earning and you know it's based directly on what you're spending," said Winship. "You don't just get what you pay for; you pay for what you get."

Redeeming points is also contingent on the fare scale: Wanna Get Away, 60 points to the dollar; Anytime, 100 points; and Business Select, 120 points. For the best value, all fingers point to the Wanna Get Away fare: For example, use 6,000 points on a $100 WGA flight vs. 26,400 on a $220 BS flight.

During the transition, the airline will grandfather in the old credits, valuing them at 1,200 points each. Passengers may also purchase additional credits to reach a free ticket.

Some of the other big changes include the abolition of capacity control, so passengers can use their points on any seat on any flight at any time. Also, the points will not expire as long as the customer keeps the account active within two years. And for the first time in the carrier's history, passengers can cash in their points for international air through partners of the domestic carrier. They can also earn and spend points at more than 800 businesses, including hotels, rental car companies and cruise lines.

For info:

Florida's cashless tolls

Drivers on a portion of Florida's turnpike must keep the change starting Feb. 19, when a stretch of the road becomes fully electronic.

The tollbooths between exits 1 (Florida City) and 47 (Miami-Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale line) along the Homestead Extension will no longer accept cash or coins. Instead, drivers may pay through the Toll-by-Plate system, which snaps a photo of the license plate and mails a bill to the registered owner, plus a $2.50 administrative fee. Or they can purchase a mini-SunPass sticker, available for $4.99 at 888-865-5352, , or at various retailers and toll plaza locations.

For rental car drivers, most of the major companies will allow their customers to place the toll charges, plus service fees, on their credit cards.

Travel ticker

The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., debuts its new $36 million building on Tuesday. Tickets will be available for purchase at the door starting Wednesday. Info: .

Reporting: Andrea Sachs. Help feed CoGo. Send travel news to:

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